Twitter Tuesday filed a complaint against the Indian government for the purpose of limiting government oversight of political content moderation decisions. The lawsuit, filed in the Karnataka High Court, also alleges abuse of power by elected officials in India.
India revamped its social media laws, so companies are required to comply with government takedown requests before proceeding with any legal challenges. In Twitter’s latest transparency report, the Indian government counted for 11% of worldwide legal requests, behind only Japan, Russia and Turkey. India previously accounted for up to 18% of Twitter’s global takedown requests.
Twitter has taken issue with the flood of content moderation requests issued under Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party. The government previously asked Twitter to remove content expressing support for the farmers’ protests and Sikh independence.
Last year, the Indian government threatens jail India-based Twitter executives for up to seven years. The threat came after Twitter restored more than 250 accounts that the government had requested be removed. Many of these accounts were critical of the BJP. The government alleged that some of these accounts were spreading false information and inciting violence.
Twitter said The Indian government has attacked “arbitrarily and disproportionately” the content and users of its platform. In February 2021, Twitter suggested it would not comply with government demands to delete the accounts of media outlets, journalists, politicians and activists. In a statement released at the time, the company said it had not deleted those accounts and believed it would “violate their fundamental right to freedom of speech under Indian law.” Eventually, however, Twitter complied with many of these requests.
WhatsApp owned by Meta brought a similar action in the Delhi High Court last year, seeking a legal review of the government’s mandate to make messages traceable. This case is ongoing.
India has a habit of taking down popular social media platforms when political circumstances arise. In the summer of 2020, after a violent border skirmish with China that left around 20 Indian soldiers dead, India banned TikTok of the country. TikTok had approximately 167 million users in India before the ban, making it one of the biggest markets for China-based ByteDance.
Based on past experience in other countries like Nigeria, Twitter is likely to tread carefully in escalating tensions with the Indian government. The Nigerian government blocked Twitter to operate in the country for a period of seven months which ended in January 2022. The Nigerian government challenged Twitter’s decision to remove a tweet from President Muhammadu Buhari which many interpreted as a call for violence against the Igbo ethnic group. As part of the reinstatement agreement, Twitter agreed to appoint a representative who would interface directly with the Nigerian regulatory agency responsible for overseeing the technology.
Elon Musk could also throw a wrench in things if his acquisition attempt is successful. In an April Ted Talk, Musk said Twitter should abide by the laws of the countries in which it operates.
So far, Twitter isn’t rocking the boat that much in India. Although it has signaled its opposition to government requests, Twitter has complied with many of them. The lawsuit pushes the company’s grievance through the proper channels and allows Twitter to formally express its dissent without unilaterally making content decisions that would irritate the BJP.