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Thursday, Aug 22, 2019

Lawmakers tell Twitter to address poll panel concerns

Thakur is learnt to have told Twitter, represented at the meeting by Colin Crowell, its global vice president of public policy, that there must be clarity and transparency regarding advertisements and sponsored content on the platform.

india Updated: Feb 25, 2019 23:40 IST
People holding mobile phones are silhouetted against a backdrop projected with the Twitter logo in this illustration picture taken in Warsaw September 27, 2013. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Illustration/Files
People holding mobile phones are silhouetted against a backdrop projected with the Twitter logo in this illustration picture taken in Warsaw September 27, 2013. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Illustration/Files(REUTERS)
         

A parliamentary panel on information technology on Monday asked microblogging site Twitter to address the concerns of the election commission and work with the poll body in real-time to address all high priority issues, said a person aware of the development who asked not to be named.

The panel, headed by BJP’s Lok Sabha MP from Hamirpur, Anurag Thakur, has also asked the site to ensure that the upcoming elections to the Lok Sabha and a clutch of assemblies are not undermined and influenced by foreign entities. The election commission is expected to announce the schedule of the upcoming elections in early March.

Thakur is learnt to have told Twitter, represented at the meeting by Colin Crowell, its global vice president of public policy, that there must be clarity and transparency regarding advertisements and sponsored content on the platform.

The panel summoned Twitter for a hearing, after concerns were raised about the impact that the platform can have on the electoral process in the country and that it seemed biased against right-wing handles. “Twitter has given an assurance that it will appoint a point of contact to address Issues flagged by the EC,” said the person cited in the first instance.

Members of the panel raised concerns over Twitter’s algorithm, pointing out there needs to be clarity on its registration in India, policy on fake news and fairness. Twitter has been given 10 days to reply in writing to questions that remained unanswered and may be called before the panel again, the person said.

One member of the panel is learnt to have said that “intention was different from practice” to which Twitter responded by saying that it is trying to provide greater transparency on this issue. “Even people with good intentions will sometimes make mistakes,” the company is learnt to have said at the meeting.

A Twitter spokesperson did not comment on the meeting, but last week said it will provide users in India details about advertising spends and data on tweets from political entities as part of its endeavour to ensure transparency on its platform. The company said information being shared within its Ads Transparency Centre will include a visual label and disclaimer information on promoted content from certified accounts to allow users to identify political campaign ads.

The election commission has asked the platform to ensure that the process of electioneering is insulated from any outside interference and content that can affect the level playing field is not allowed to circulate. The government is working on a strategy for campaign silence on social media 48 hours before polls.

After refusing to meet representatives of Twitter in India at its last meeting on February 11; the parliamentary panel wrote to the company to send its CEO Jack Dorsey to address its concerns. Dorsey did not appear before the panel, but sent a letter, which was read out at the start of the committee meeting. The chairman of the panel allowed Crowell to represent Twitter during the hearing based on Jack Dorsey’s letter. The panel also summoned social media giants Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp on March 6 to discuss similar concerns.

In an email response Facebook said, “Facebook is deeply committed to India and to safeguarding our users and their rights on our family of apps. We deeply appreciate the opportunity to answer questions from the Honorable Parliamentary Committee and to outline the specific steps we have taken to help ensure the safety of our users.”

Members underlined the need to strengthen the complaints redressal mechanism of Twitter. Another issue that was flagged by the members was that the platform should respond in real-time to requests made by the CERT, the nodal agency that deals with cyber security threats such as hacking and phishing.

(With inputs by Vidhi Choudhary)

First Published: Feb 25, 2019 23:40 IST

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