New Delhi: Twitter was grilled by MPs across parties on Friday and told bluntly that “Indian laws are supreme and the company has to abide by the laws of India in India,” sources said after a meeting of the parliamentary panel on IT led by Congress’s Shashi Tharoor.
During a nearly 95-minute meeting, two officials of Twitter India faced tough questions including why the company hadn’t appointed a full-time Chief Compliance Officer in India and what its policy was on content that could cause trouble, specifically incite communal hate.
The committee asked the officials whether their company rules were more important or the laws of India. They reportedly had a “vague response” that Twitter rules were “equally important” for them – a reply that was not viewed positively by the MPs.
Sources say the officials – Twitter India’s Public Policy Manager Shagufta Kamran and legal counsel Atsushi Kapoor – told the panel that their policies were “very important” to them and they would follow them. They also said “Twitter respects Indian laws”.
The questioning by MPs comes at a time when Twitter has been in the crosshairs over a range of subjects including a widely-shared video from Uttar Pradesh’s Ghaziabad of an assault on a Muslim man on June 5. Twitter has been named in an FIR and a complaint that accuses it of provoking communal sentiment and not acting to take down the posts.
Twitter was asked by parliamentarians about its policy on content flagged as controversial or inflammatory, sources said. A BJP MP specifically raised the Ghaziabad incident.
“Officials admitted that they promote what they think are healthy Tweets and demote those which were not healthy tweets,” sources said – again an explanation that did not wash with the panel. An MP said the approach violated the IT Act.
“On many issues, Twitter India officials were vague and evasive,” said the sources.
The two officials were told to submit in writing details of their status in the company and the powers they had in terms of taking important policy decisions, sources said.
The parliamentary committee has now decided to summon Facebook, YouTube and Google officials to examine their policies.
Besides Shashi Tharoor, other MPs that attended the meeting included Trinamool Congress’s Mahua Moitra and the BJP’s Nishikant Dubey and Rajyavardhan Rathore.
A Twitter spokesperson said later that the company was prepared to work with the committee on “safeguarding citizens’ rights online in line with our principles of transparency, freedom of expression, and privacy.”
“We will also continue working alongside the Indian government as part of our shared commitment to serve and protect the public conversation,” the spokesperson added.
Twitter’s representatives were summoned by the IT panel over “safeguarding citizens’ rights and preventing misuse of online platforms”.
The US-based social media giant has clashed with the government frequently in recent weeks after it tagged tweets by BJP leaders on an alleged “Congress toolkit” as “manipulated media”. The government asked Twitter to remove the label and the Delhi Police also served notices and travelled to Bengaluru to question Twitter India head Manish Maheshwari.
This week, government sources said Twitter “has lost its legal shield” as it failed to comply with the new IT rules that require it to appoint key officers in India. Union IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said Twitter was given “multiple opportunities to comply” but it chose the path of “deliberate defiance”.
The first criminal cases that the microblogging site faces are connected to the Ghaziabad assault video. The Uttar Pradesh police have now sent a legal notice to the Twitter India chief and have asked him to report to a police station and record his statement within seven days.
The government says Twitter is the only major social media site that has yet to comply with new digital rules in force since May 26. Earlier this week, Twitter said it had appointed an interim Chief Compliance Officer and would later share updates with the government.