Twitter Inc. said today that it has just begun a lawsuit against the Indian government over what the company sees as unfair standards regarding speech laws.
The lawsuit was filed at the Karnataka High Court in Bangalore, a consequence of a recent spat Twitter had with the Indian government over its aggressive speech laws. The government had asked Twitter to take down some posts and block dozens of accounts. Twitter did so but then went straight to the courts.
The difficult relationship between Twitter and the government goes back to 2021 when India’s new information technology laws went into effect. The government then asked Twitter on many occasions to take down content it perceived as being critical of it, while Twitter accused the government of “intimidation tactics.” At one point, the Indian police turned up at Twitter’s offices and threatened to jail Twitter staff if the company did not adhere to the country’s new laws.
These new laws essentially make it hard for anyone to criticize the government on Twitter. Twitter says they are not about preventing the spread of misinformation – as the government says they are – but about wielding power and preventing people from speaking freely.
In the new lawsuit, Twitter says it doesn’t want to change the laws but argues that the government is applying them too broadly. In some cases, the content in question was written by a political entity. Twitter says this is not fair.
Some of the posts and accounts that the government wanted Twitter to act on were indeed critical of it. Some were related to how the government dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic. Others were about farmers’ protests and still others aired support for an independent Sikh state.
Twitter has about 24 million users in India, making it one of the company’s biggest markets. The public at times has been critical of Twitter, especially when the company has removed content from politicians, journalists, activists and other officials.
The Indian government has responded by saying it may amend some of the IT laws, including introducing an appeals panel. Still, right now the government seems impervious to Twitter’s calls for more freedom.
“It is everyone’s responsibility to abide by the laws passed by the country’s Parliament,” Ashwini Vaishnaw, minister of electronics and information technology, said at a news conference today, as reported by the New York Times. It seems this will be an uphill battle for Twitter and free speech proponents in India.