Minister for Information Technology and Communications Ravi Shankar Prasad on Thursday said global social media platforms such as Twitter, WhatsApp, Facebook and others were welcome to work, earn money in India but they should follow the law and the Constitution of India.
Also read: Parliament proceedings updates — February 11, 2021
Replying to a question in the Rajya Sabha, Mr. Prasad said his Ministry had flagged Twitter and called out the microblogging site for double standards, adding that “freedom of speech” was there but Article 19 (2) of the Constitution added reasonable restrictions because of sovereignty and integrity of India.
“Why is it that when police act in Washington’s Capitol Hill ransacking, a micro similar blogging site stands in their support , but when a similar action is taken at Red Fort, our national pride, the platform opposes it? Freedom of speech is there, but with reasonable restrictions. Why double standards? You cannot spread hate messages such as ‘PM Modi massacre of farmers’,” Mr. Prasad said animatedly.
Twitter and the Government of India are at loggerheads over issues related to content removal and freedom of expression after the latter asked the former to block 250 accounts using hashtags related to “farmer genocide”, and about 1,178 accounts that security agencies suspect are backed by Khalistani sympathisers and Pakistan. Twitter said in a blog post that it withheld “a portion of the accounts but no action was taken against the accounts of news media entities, journalists, activists and politicians as it violated their policy of free speech”.
When asked about why India has not become a hub of microprocessors despite being an Information Technology hub, Mr. Prasad quipped, “Koo, a made in India blog has become a big toast of success today. They are not only using Indian technology, Indian server too. Let us salute the extraordinary courage of the start-up movement ...but I agree there is need to boost the processing industry.”
Fake news, messages
Speaking on the steps taken to curb fake news and messages, he said, “we respect social media. It has empowered common people. We respect criticism... you can criticise even the Prime Minister. But if social media is used to propagate hate, then action will be taken. We have huge respect for India’s electoral process and if anyone uses social media to influence elections, strict action will bet taken. Whether it is Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn, I have a message for all of you — come, work in India, earn money but you will have to follow India’s laws,” he said.
BJP’s Vinay Saharsabuddhe wanted to know if the social media platforms could be brought under Press Council of India (PCI) or body that regulates Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).
Mr. Prasad responded, “I and Prakash Javaedkar are revisiting guidelines mentioned in a Standing Committee report and will soon share the details. When you become a global platform, you make your own law and India’s laws will have no place in it? That is not how it works. You bring money and do business, but you have to respect the law of the land.”
Syed Nasir Hussain of the Congress said the European Union’s Disinformation Lab has published a report on news agencies like Asian News International (ANI) for spreading disinformation in order to portray a positive image of the government. He asked whether action is being taken against channels for spreading fake news.
“My department takes action from time to time on this issue. This government is led by leaders who have fought for the freedom of individuals, freedom of media and the judiciary. We fought during Emergency, be it Prime Minister Modi or Rajnath ji . Our commitment to individual freedom and judiciary is complete and total. We are equally concerned about the safety and security of India,” he said.
Privacy was an important right and many gaps in the area would be addressed when new guidelines were finalised.
“I have a message for social media platforms — freedom is important, but when you abuse it in a manner- you are showing revenge sex videos, street fights designed to ignite violence, porn videos, family issues on social media...? I will urge the social media if you have certain internal guidelines, then measure this unbridled exposure to the standards of your own guidelines and take appropriate action,” he stated.