SC seeks govt, Twitter replies on fake news plea
The Supreme Court on Friday sought responses from Twitter India and Centre on a petition demanding regulation of “fake and seditious” content and advertisements circulated on social media platforms from unverified accounts.
The petition filed by Delhi Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) unit’s IT and Social Media Cell chief Vinit Goenka cited the recent order of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) issued on February 1 directing Twitter to block more than 250 Twitter accounts found to promote fake and provocative contents. Goenka accused Twitter of creating hatred in society by circulating, publishing, and promoting seditious contents and sought a mechanism to deal with such content.
A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) SA Bobde issued a notice and tagged it with two similar petitions pending in Court on the issue of regulating content on social media. In October 2020, the Court issued notice on a petition by two law students demanding profile verification of social media accounts in order to weed out illicit and graphic content uploaded on social media.
Appearing for Goenka, advocate Ashwini Dubey argued that there was an urgent need for the Court to interfere since, he claimed, there was no law is in place to prevent circulation of anti-national content and posts that spread hatred based on fake news.
“In the absence of any law to deal with offensive and hatred messages, platforms like Twitter are knowingly promoting the messages which are against the law of the land and therefore, the Respondent No.4 (Twitter) needs to explain for circulating and promoting the prohibited content,” the petitioner said.
With notices been issued, responses have to be filed to the petition by Twitter and the two Central departments – ministry of law and justice and ministry of information and broadcasting.
The petition comes a day after the Union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, who also has the charge for the ministry of electronics and information technology, warned social media companies that they cannot ignore Indian law and told parliament that new rules and codes were in the works for social media companies to follow.
This month, Twitter has been locked in a rare confrontation with the Union government after being given orders to block over 1,300 links -- entire profiles as well as posts -- for alleged incitement during the January 26 farm protest-linked violence. The company complied partially, saying that the orders were not consistent with the law, prompting the government as well as legal experts to accuse it of ignoring the rule of law.
At present, Twitter enjoys a considerable presence in India. According to the petition, 10 per cent of 3.5 million Indian accounts are fake with some of their bearing names and profiles of top constitutional functionaries in the country that tends to mislead the common man.
“Fake accounts are used to promote casteism, communalism, regionalism, linguism,” the petition stated by citing what it said were posts posts by separatist organizations such as Sikhs for Justice, Pakistan-based Inter Services Intelligence, as well as terror groups that it said created fake IDs and foment division.
“The aforesaid act shows that the Respondent 4 (Twitter) is sympathetic to terrorist groups. There is no law/mechanism which prohibits Respondent 4 from doing aforesaid illegal acts, and Respondent 4 does not have its own mechanism” Goenka stated in his petition.
Twitter declined to comment on the matter.
According to Apar Gupta, lawyer and founder of Internet Freedom Foundation, the step initiated by the Court would be injurious to freedom of speech and expression. “Censorship in any form is imperfect and leads to a wide chilling effect on freedom of internet users. Even the category proposed for taking down content such as seditious content is wide which often confounds experts. What amounts to seditious content can be decided only after a criminal trial,” Gupta said.
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