Monday 12 June 2023

Former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey alleges pressure from Indian government during farmers’ protest; Centre terms it ‘outright lie’

 The Indian government made several requests of Twitter, relating to the farmers’ protests, and journalists critical of the Centre, and followed it up by exerting pressure and threatening to raid Twitter employees, former CEO of Twitter Jack Dorsey has alleged. The Centre in response has called these allegations an “outright lie”, adding that under Mr. Dorsey, Twitter was a repeat violator.

Mr. Dorsey made these allegations on June 12, in an interview he gave to the YouTube channel Breaking Points. During the interview, Mr. Dorsey was asked about the pressures he had received from foreign governments during his time as CEO of Twitter.

“India is a country that had many request of us around the farmers protest, around particular journalists that were critical of the government, and it manifested in ways such as ‘we will shut Twitter down in India,’ which is a very large market for us; ‘we will raid the homes of your employees,’ which they did; ‘we will shut down your offices, if you don’t follow suit,’ and this is India, a democratic country,” Mr. Dorsey said. He then went on to compare his experience of other countries, including Turkey — a country he called very similar to India.

‘Outright lie’: Centre

Rajeev Chandrasekhar, Union Minister of State for Electronics and Information Technology denied these comments on Twitter, calling them an “outright lie”. Referring to Mr. Dorsey’s time as CEO, he said that Mr. Dorsey’s allegations were an “attempt to brush out that very dubious period of twitters history [sic]”.

In his statement, Mr. Chandrasekhar refuted Mr. Dorsey’s allegations and said that no one was raided or sent to jail. “No one went to jail nor was twitter “shutdown”[sic].”

“Our focus was only on ensuring the compliance of Indian laws,” the Minister said claiming that under Mr. Dorsey’s leadership the micro-blogging site was a repeat violator of the Indian law. “As a matter of fact they were in non-compliance with law repeatedly from 2020 to 2022 and it was only June 2022 when they finally complied.”

Mr. Chandrasekhar said that “Dorsey’s Twitter regime had a problem accepting the sovereignty of Indian law,” and behaved as if the Indian laws did not apply to it.

Reacting to Mr. Dorsey’s specific example of receiving takedown requests, the Minister said that during the farmers protest in January 2021, “there was a lot of misinformation and even reports of genocide which were definitely fake”

“GoI was obligated to remove misinformation from the platform because it had the potential to further inflame the situation based on fake news. Such was the level of partisan behaviour on Twitter under Jack regime, that they had a problem removing misinformation from the platform in India, when they did it themselves when similar events took place in the USA.”

“There is ample evidence now in public domain about Jacks twitter’s arbitrary, blatantly partisan and discriminatory conduct and misuse of its power on its platform during that period, [sic]” he further said.

“Twitter under Dorsey was not just violating Indian law, but was partisan in how it was using “deamplify” and deplatforming of some arbitrarily in violation of Art 14, 19 of our constitution and also assisting in weaponising of misinformation,” his tweet read.

India highest requester of user account data in the world

At the height of the farmers’ protest in February 2021, the Centre had asked Twitter to remove nearly 1,200 accounts related to the protest that it suspected to be linked to Khalistan sympathisers or backed by Pakistan. The Hindu reported that the government felt that Mr. Dorsey ‘liking’ a few tweets supporting the protest, at the time, raised questions over the platform’s neutrality.


Govt cites national security to deny RTI request on Twitter notice

This is not the first time that the Indian government is facing such allegations. India is the highest requester of user account data in the world, ahead of Twitter’s two largest markets, the United States and Japan. Since the company announced it will not be publishing a formal transparency report for the year 2022, it is unclear how many user account requests the Government has sent to Twitter. In July–December 2021, the latest period for which such information is available, and a period where India was also the top requester, the platform received 2,211 requests for 7,768 accounts. 

On government removals, India is currently the fourth highest requester in the world, behind Japan, South Korea and Turkey. In the same 2021 six month period for which data is available, the government sent over 4,000 legal demands for removal, of which Twitter complied with 19.5%.

Elon Musk who immediately succeeded Mr. Dorsey as CEO of Twitter had also remarked in April this year that, “The rules in India for what can appear on social media are quite strict.”

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