In India, Twitter has had a particularly difficult year. However, even those who would like to be on the company’s side are baffled by the company’s response to the upheaval.
The biggest tech companies in Silicon Valley have been locked in a tense standoff with India over the government’s strict new information technology rules, which were enacted in February. The rules aim to regulate online content by requiring businesses to hire people who can respond quickly to legal requests to delete posts, among other things — and these executives could face criminal charges if flagged content is not removed.
These rules could theoretically address serious, legitimate concerns about Big Tech’s entry into India and elsewhere. American social networks have expanded into new countries, eager to tap large new markets but seemingly unconcerned about the impact their platforms may have on the people who live there, and with little expertise or infrastructure to address those impacts. This can have major ramifications, such as Facebook’s presence in Myanmar, as well as minor ones. Authorities in India, for example, who are having an urgent problem with material on Twitter, may have to wait until people in California, who are 12 hours ahead of them, are available.
However, activists and tech companies are concerned that the new rules will give Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government too much discretionary power, with the primary effect of allowing the government to target and censor political opponents.
Twitter has become the government’s favorite punching bag in the midst of all of this.
The company has struggled to fill key government-mandated positions where other companies have had more success. And, according to CNN Business, tech experts are perplexed by Twitter’s apparent inability to commit to either following the rules or taking a stand and defying them completely.
“This year has seen a significant rise in digital authoritarianism in India … and Twitter has been made into a scapegoat to send a message to other companies,” said Raman Jit Singh Chima, Asia policy director and senior international counsel at digital rights group Access Now. He added that Twitter probably did not realize how much of a target it had become until too late.
“If they had,” he said, “they could have been more public with the challenges they have been facing.”
Instead, Twitter’s public response and engagement with authorities, tech advocacy groups, and even the media has been “sporadic,” according to Chima, making it difficult for potential allies to defend the company against the government’s onslaught.
Now, the tech behemoth finds itself in uncharted territory in one of its most important markets. In India, Twitter has lost its immunity from third-party content, which means it can now be sued for anything its users post on the platform. In India, the company is also the subject of a number of police investigations, including one into how it handled tweets from a prominent ruling party official.
When asked about the situation in India, Twitter declined to comment.