Tweets related to ‘Congress Toolkit’ from verified accounts of at least five BJP leaders, including Rajya Sabha MP Vinay Sahasrabuddhe and party’s national social media in-charge Priti Gandhi, in addition to national spokesperson Sambit Patra , continue to be labelled as ‘manipulated media’ even as the government had asked Twitter to remove the tag.
Other leaders whose tweets, wherein they shared documents alleging use of a toolkit by the Congress to hurt Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s image during the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, include BJP co-incharge of Andhra Pradesh Sunil Deodhar, party’s media panellist Charu Pragya and Delhi general secretary Kuljeet Singh Chahal.
The government on Friday asked Twitter to remove the ‘manipulated media’ tag from certain tweets by the leaders, including Mr. Patra, “with reference to a toolkit created to undermine, derail and demean the efforts of the government against COVID-19 pandemic”. However, the microblogging website has not removed the label.
According to experts, the government does not have the power under the Information Technology Act to direct Twitter to remove ‘manipulated media’ tag from certain tweets. Such a move by the Centre had also raised concern of censorship, they said.
As per Twitter’s ‘synthetic and manipulated media policy’, it may label tweets that include media that have been deceptively altered or fabricated. “In order to determine if media have been significantly and deceptively altered or fabricated, we may use our own technology or receive reports through partnerships with third parties. In situations where we are unable to reliably determine if media have been altered or fabricated, we may not take action to label or remove them,” the company policy states.
Kazim Rizvi, Founder of policy think-tank The Dialogue said, “All Social media platforms have their Terms of Service which users sign-up for at the time of joining a platform and agree to abide by these Terms. If anyone violates these terms of service, they are subject to a range of enforcements as outlined by th.e respective platforms.”
‘Standard global policy’
Mr. Rizvi said this was a standard global practice for platforms across the world and not just for Twitter in India.
He also pointed out that the IT Act did not empower the Ministry of Electronics and IT to order a platform to undo its enforcement decision (labelling a post) and any attempt to interfere raised concerns of censorship and lack of transparency. “It is important to note that the IT Act empowers the Government to order blocking and removal of content. It, however, does not allow the Government with any power to interfere with enforcement decisions (labelling a post) of a platform in application of their own Terms of Service.”
Similarly, Prasanth Sugathan, Legal Director, SFLC.in, said Twitter was a private entity which, in line with the laws and regulations in India, was entitled to moderate content which was being exchanged upon its platform. There was no law or regulation in India that explicitly prohibited or mandated the marking, flagging or labelling of content by intermediaries, he noted.
“The Central government under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 has the authority to issue directions for blocking access to information but that authority cannot be used in respect of ordering an intermediary to remove the label on content...If a user is not abiding by the terms of service, the intermediary even has the right to terminate the user account,” Mr. Sugathan said.