On the request of Twitter, Secretary to Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, Government of India held a virtual interaction with Twitter officials on Wednesday and expressed strong displeasure on the way Twitter acted after an emergency order was issued to remove this hashtag 'farmer genocide'.
In a conversation with Vice President Global Public Policy Monique Meche and Deputy General Counsel and Vice President Legal Jim Baker, Secretary reminded Twitter that in India," its Constitution and laws are supreme", and it is expected that "responsible entities not only reaffirm but remain committed to compliance to the law of land."
"In view of the order issued by the Government of India directing Twitter to remove Tweets and accounts using hashtags related to 'farmer genocide' and accounts supported by Khalistan sympathizers and backed by Pakistan and blog post issued by Twitter today morning, this meeting took place as per schedule," an official release said.
Secretary told the Twitter representatives that India values freedom and criticism because it is part of our democracy.
"India has a robust mechanism for protection of freedom of speech and expression that is very elaborately explained as Fundamental Rights under Article 19 (1) of the Constitution of India. But freedom of expression is not absolute and it is subject to reasonable restrictions as mentioned in Article 19 (2) of the Constitution of India. Various judgments of the Supreme Court have also upheld this from time to time," the Secretary said.
He further highlighted that Twitter is welcome to do business in India, and "due to India's conducive business environment, open internet and a firm commitment to the freedom of expression" Twitter was able to grow significantly in India in the last few years.
"Twitter, as a business entity working in India, must also respect the Indian laws and democratic institutions. Twitter is free to formulate its own rules and guidelines, like any other business entity does, but Indian laws that are enacted by the Parliament of India must be followed irrespective of Twitter's own rules and guidelines," the Secretary added.
He took up the issue of using a hashtag on 'farmer genocide' with Twitter executives and expressed strong displeasure on the way Twitter acted after an emergency order was issued to remove this hashtag and content related to that.
"Spreading misinformation using an incendiary and baseless hashtag referring to 'farmer genocide' at a time when such irresponsible content can provoke and inflame the situation is neither journalistic freedom nor freedom of expression as envisaged under Article 19 of the Constitution of India. Despite the attention of Twitter being drawn to such content by the Government through a lawful process, the platform allowed the content with this hashtag to continue, which was extremely unfortunate," he stated.
Secretary reminded Twitter about the action taken by the microblogging site during the Capitol Hill episode in the USA and compared that with the disturbance in Red Fort in India and its aftermath.
He expressed dissatisfaction over Twitter's differential treatment in the two incidents and "a deep sense of disappointment at seeing Twitter side not with 'freedom of expression' but rather with those who seek to abuse such freedom and provoke disturbance to public order, was conveyed to the Twitter representative," the release said.
The Secretary also mentioned that revelations around a certain "Toolkit" that have made it evident that a strong social media campaign was planned in a foreign country around farmers' protest. "Misuse of Twitter's platform for execution of such campaigns designed to create disharmony and unrest in India is unacceptable and Twitter must take strong action against such well-coordinated campaigns against India, through compliance with the applicable law of the land," he stated.
Secretary expressed his deep disappointment to Twitter leadership about the manner in which Twitter has unwillingly, grudgingly and with great delay complied with the substantial parts of the order, and said "Lawfully passed orders are binding on any business entity. They must be obeyed immediately. If they are executed days later, it becomes meaningless."
The government conveyed to the Twitter leadership that the manner in which "Twitter officially allows fake, unverified, anonymous and automated bot accounts to be operated on its platform, raises doubts about its commitment to transparency and healthy conversation on this platform."
The release said that Twitter leadership affirmed their commitment towards following Indian laws and rules, and expressed their continuing commitment towards building their services in India.
"They have also requested for better engagement between Government of India and Twitter's global team," it added.