Could Twitter, WhatsApp face ban in India? Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad replies
Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Thursday said the government is not in favour of banning any social media platform. If half of the government is on Twitter, including Prime Minister and President, it shows how fair the government is, but social media intermediaries, a status that Twitter has recently lost, have to follow local rules, the minister said to news agency ANI. On WhatsApp, he said all ordinary users can continue to use it. "It is my word," the minister said. The minister's remarks come amid the ongoing face-off between the government and Twitter which escalated as the government withdrew the legal protection — that all social media intermediaries in the country enjoy — from Twitter.
On the issue of WhatsApp, which has taken a legal path against the new I-T rules, the minister said the government does not want all WhatsApp messages to be decrypted. "If any content goes viral, causing mob lynching, riots, killing, showing women in nudity, sexual exploitation of children, only in these limited categories, you will be asked to declare who started the mischief," the minister said.
In case if an inciting message originated outside the country, then the government wants to know who started it in India, the minister added.
"When Capitol Hill in Washington was raided, you block Twitter accounts of all including then President. During farmers' strike, Red Fort is raided by terrorist supporters showing naked swords, injuring policemen and pushing them in a ditch, then it's freedom of expression. If Capitol Hill is US' pride, Red Fort is India's where PM hoists Tricolour. You show parts of Ladakh as China's part. It takes a fortnight for us to pursue you to remove it. This isn't fair. As a democracy, India is equally entitled to safeguard its digital sovereignty," the minister told the news agency, reiterating the flashpoints between the government and the Twitter in the past.
Why Twitter and WhatsApp are up in arms against the new IT rules
According to the new IT rules which became effective from May 26, the social media platforms have to disclose the origin of any message if the authorities consider the message to be harmful. WhatsApp moved the Delhi high court challenging the new IT rules and said that if the platform reveals the origin of chats, then its end-to-end encryption policy will be violated.
After being denied legal cover in India, Twitter said it is working with the government. On Thursday, it came to light that cops from Delhi Police's special cell went to Bengaluru on May 31 to question Twitter's India MD Manish Maheshwari over Twitter's "manipulated media" tag.
What the government did to Twitter is nowhere close to banning Twitter. If a social media intermediary loses legal protection, it becomes liable for what someone posts on it. Ministers, government departments continue their activities on Twitter, as Ravi Shankar Prasad claimed. However, many ministers have opened accounts on Koo, an India-based platform like Twitter.