The Unending Social Media Battle With Indian Government

WhatsApp files a lawsuit in the Delhi High Court against India’s request for traceability as it is a step to “control” social media.

WhatsApp on Wednesday filed a lawsuit in the Delhi High Court against India’s request for “traceability”. The government’s request for the originator of the message is a step to “control” social media. The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology has warned of legal action if WhatsApp fails to comply with its new IT rule.

“Requiring messaging apps to ‘trace’ chats is the equivalent of asking us to keep a fingerprint of every single message sent on WhatsApp, which would break end-to-end encryption and fundamentally undermines people’s right to privacy,” WhatsApp spokesman said.

Civil society and technical experts around the world have consistently argued that a requirement to ‘trace’ private messages would break end-to-end encryption and lead to real abuse, the spokesperson added.

It is not only a threat to people’s right to privacy but also an innocent man’s quench for accuracy. People commonly take content from websites and copy-paste. WhatsApp said some might have “shared it out of concern, or sent it to check the accuracy”.

India tackles every question that poses a threat to the “govt’s image”. Accounts that expose the govt’s catastrophic handling of covid-19 to brutal attacks against minorities are often followed by an immediate ban. This attitude of the government is a threat to “freedom of speech” and the world’s largest democracy.

A new low in crushing the dissent

Social media posts that unveil brutal truths are labeled as “misinformation” by the government. Individuals and journalists engaged in sharing such content are attacked. The press freedom in India has climbed down to 142 in 2020. In such a country, the request for “traceability” would lead to more attacks.

The new IT rules would act as an attempt to solidify the ‘Godi Media’, “A pejorative term coined and popularized by NDTV journalist Ravish Kumar, for the sensationalist and biased Indian print and TV news media, which supports the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government,” according to Wikipedia. Rules are set to get “ultimate power” to suppress social media content. Some artists criticized the government for threatening their freedom of expression.

Twitter has been battling with the Indian government since the farmers’ protest. Twitter was requested to take down tweets against “govt’s image” but the tweets were later restored, putting Twitter on heat.

The microblogging site plays the role of opposition. It faces mounting criticism for its refusal to block tweets against Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the tagging of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson’s tweet as “manipulated media”.

“To keep our service available, we will strive to comply with applicable law in India. But, just as we do around the world, we will continue to be strictly guided by principles of transparency, a commitment to empowering every voice on the service, and protecting freedom of expression and privacy under the rule of law,” Twitter responded.

“Twitter is a platform, not a regulator. To regulate, they say they have kept fact-checkers. Who are these fact-checkers? I want to know their names and how they have been appointed. Some of these fact-checkers have one agenda, Hate Modi. Twitter could not find any neutral fact-checkers in such a big country? This question needs to be raised. Twitter should just follow India’s laws. Just put a grievance redressal officer so an ordinary person can make a complaint. Appoint a nodal officer so an investigating agency can get help from you,” The minister of Electronics and Information Technology Ravi Shankar Prasad said in an exclusive interview with India Today.

Prasad went on to say that the problem is not with the use of social media but with misuse of it. He added: “When that happens, what should a person do? Is it not true that sometimes compromising photographs of women are uploaded on social media? Sometimes people are defamed on social media? To counter this, we have asked social media companies in the new IT rules to appoint a grievance redressal officer so that Indian users have someone to complain to in such situations. They should not have to complain to someone in the US. What is the problem with that?”

Seize the moment: Koo, the Indian rival of Twitter with nearly 6 million users is emerging as a major social media under the new guidelines. Press release by the Ministry of Electronics and IT in response to the statements made by Twitter first appeared on Koo.

Google and Facebook will comply with the new IT rules. “It’s obviously early days, and our local teams are very engaged. You know we comply with local laws, and we will approach it with the same framework, ” Google chief executive Sundar Pichai said.

“We engage and explain to everyone the importance of information, promoting free flow of information, but we do want to respect legislative processes in democratic countries. We are committed to complying,” he added.

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