Twitter is now legally liable for content posted by its users in India after failing to comply with the country’s new IT rules, the government said in a legal filing. As reported by both Reuters and TechCrunch, India’s IT ministry argues in a filing with New Delhi’s High Court that the social media firm has lost its legal immunity after failing to comply with new requirements imposed in May. These include appointing a chief compliance officer, a grievance officer, and a contact person to respond to requests from law enforcement 24 hours a day.
Reuters reports that the court filing came in response to allegations from a Twitter user that they had been defamed by tweets posted on the platform, and that Twitter has not appointed the new executives required as part of the new regulations.
If the court sides with India’s government, it would mark a major shift in Twitter’s legal obligations in the country, with TechCrunch noting it could open the door for its executives to face criminal charges over objectionable content posted by its users. While social media platforms, including Twitter, often take down content in response to legal challenges, they’re generally not legally liable for the contents of their users’ posts. Although the Indian government has claimed Twitter has lost this legal protection, experts have said that the final decision ultimately rests with India’s courts.
Following months of escalating tensions
In the US, social media companies are generally not held liable for their users’ posts thanks to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. But India’s IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has argued it’s wrong for companies to expect exactly the same protection under Indian law. “The issue is of misuse of social media,” TechCrunch reports the minister said in a press conference last week. “Some of them say we are bound by American laws. You operate in India, make good money, but you will take the position that you’ll be governed by American laws. This is plainly not acceptable.” Prasad denied that the move was aimed at silencing criticism of the country’s government.
A spokesperson from Twitter declined to comment. The company has previously said it was making efforts to comply with India’s new Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code, which came into force in May.
Tensions have been rising between Twitter and the Indian government for several months. In May, police in India raided Twitter’s offices as part of an investigation into why the company labeled tweets from government officials as “manipulated media.” Last month, the country’s technology minister warned Twitter of “unintended consequences” if the company did not comply with its new regulations, and gave it “one last notice to immediately comply.”
Other big tech companies have also clashed with Indian authorities over its new regulations. In May, WhatsApp sued the Indian government over the new rules, claiming they are unconstitutional and will “severely undermine the privacy” of its users. WhatsApp’s concerns relate to a requirement that it track the origins of objectionable messages. The service argues that this would effectively force it to “trace” private messages sent on its platform, ultimately breaking the service’s end-to-end encryption.
Update July 6th, 11:04AM ET: Updated with Twitter declining to comment.