On Monday, Twitter will send its Global Vice President of Public Policy Colin Cromwell to attend the parliamentary session that its CEO Jack Dorsey has decided to skipped.
The 31-member committee conducting the session will discuss the “safeguarding of citizen’s rights on social/online news media platforms”, said BJP member and panel chief Anurag Thakur.
A Twitter spokesperson said, “We thank the Parliamentary Committee for its invitation to hear Twitter’s views… These are issues for all internet services globally. Colin Crowell, Global Vice President of Public Policy for Twitter will meet with the Committee on Monday.”
The parliamentary committee has also asked representatives from Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram to attend a separate but similar hearing on March 6.
Why is this happening?
Qrius reported earlier that in February, the parliamentary committee summoned Dorsey to attend its hearing on safeguarding Indian citizens’ rights on social media platforms. However, citing “short notice” Dorsey did not attend.
ANI reported that, in his absence, a team from Twitter Indian arrived at parliament to appear before the committee. However, the committee refused to meet with anyone except Dorsey or a senior official from the company.
Twitter’s management was given until Monday, February 25, to send an official.
This parliamentary committee was convened after people protested that Twitter was censoring right-wing Indian voices on its platform.
On February 3, a group of men staged a demonstration outside Twitter India’s office in Delhi to “expose it’s bias against nationalist tweeps”, said Entrepreneur and Secretary of Incredible Bharat Foundation Rahul Kaushik who supported the gathering.
Thakur, who tweeted the agenda for the parliamentary committee, met with these protestors to hear their grievances.
Twitter taking action against extremist users is not uncommon. The platform has suspended white nationalists associated with a far-right group in the United Kingdom.
However, some people believe that these are attempts to silence right-wing voices.
Can the government regulate social media?
Yes, if it passes a certain set of guidelines.
In November last year, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) drafted some guidelines that would allow the government to regulate social media platforms.
These new rules are an amendment to the existing Information Technology (IT) Act 2000 that outlines the procedures for e-commerce transactions.
The amendment will give the government the power to remove any content that is “objectionable” or “threatens the unity, integrity, defence, security or sovereignty of India.”
It can also compel social media platforms to cooperate with government agencies on security-related matters by removing content or tracking down users.
Counsel at Cornellia Chambers Kushan Chakraborty said that these amendments and the parliamentary hearing is an effort by the BJP to curb foreign intervention in elections. This is not an invalid concern, especially with scandals like the one involving Facebook and Cambridge Analytica.
What does Cromwell have to say about it all?
Cromwell made his opinions on the matter clear in a blog posted ahead of the meeting Dorsey was expected to attend.
Addressing Dorsey’s summon, Cromwell said that Twitter’s product and policies are never developed on the basis of political ideology.
“To be clear, we do not review, prioritize, or enforce our policies on the basis of political ideology. Every Tweet and every account is treated impartially. We apply our policies fairly and judiciously for all”, Cromwell said.
He added that a specialised global team enforces Twitter’s code of conduct, not the employees at Twitter India.
“India is the world’s largest democracy, and one of our largest and fastest-growing audience markets globally. We are committed to surfacing all sides of the conversation as we enter the election season in this extraordinarily diverse cultural, political and social climate”, Cromwell said.
In addition to making its ad rules stricter for the Lok Sabha elections this year, Twitter India also held a workshop on voter awareness with a delegation from the Election Commission of India.
Rhea Arora is a Staff Writer at Qrius