Strict action will be taken if social media is misused to spread fake news and fuel violence in the country, said Union electronics and information technology minister Ravi Shankar Prasad in the Parliament on Thursday. Prasad’s warning comes amid a tussle with microblogging website Twitter.
The minister in his Rajya Sabha address specifically named social media giants such as Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and LinkedIn. He said that social media platforms have millions of followers in India and are free to do business, but their activities should be in consonance with the Indian Constitution.
The minister said, “We respect social media a lot, it has empowered common people. Social media has a big role in Digital India programme. However, if social media is misused to spread fake news, violence then action will be taken.”
Notably, the Union government and Twitter are at loggerheads over the issue of free speech and its legal limits in the country.
The government had asked Twitter to remove 1,178 handles as they allegedly belonged to Pakistani and Khalistani users. These handles according to the government were spreading misinformation on the farmer protests outside Delhi since November.
Media reports quoting government sources said many of these accounts were automated bots that were used for sharing and amplifying misinformation. The government has said that it will take action against Twitter if its orders are not followed.
What Twitter said
Twitter on Wednesday said a government order asking it to block 1,178 accounts for allegedly spreading misinformation on the farmer protests was inconsistent with Indian law. It also said that for some accounts, the access will be restricted within India and that they will not be banned outright.
In a blog post, it said free expression was under threat around the world. “We have withheld a portion of the accounts identified in the blocking orders under our Country Withheld Content policy within India only. These accounts continue to be available outside of India,” Twitter said in a blog post.
“Because we do not believe that the actions we have been directed to take are consistent with Indian law, and, in keeping with our principles of defending protected speech and freedom of expression, we have not taken any action on accounts that consist of news media entities, journalists, activists, and politicians. To do so, we believe, would violate their fundamental right to free expression under Indian law,” it had said.
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