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Twitter speaks in support of free speech – but only in India

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Twitter appears to be firm in standing up for the right of its users to exercise free speech on the platform. Its users in India, that is.

There, Twitter is opposing Indian government’s attempts to force it to ban accounts of those the company sees as complying with India’s own laws, that allow people to criticize the authorities, as in any democracy.

The government, however, is facing a major crisis with a wave of sometimes violent protests staged by farmers worried that impending agricultural reforms will endanger the livelihoods of millions.

In late January, weeks of protests held on the outskirts of Delhi turned into the storming of the center of the capital city. Imposing internet blackouts was one “democratic” tool the authorities used on the day, trying to control the protest.

The Indian government wants to silence the voices supporting these farmers on social networks – including journalists and activists – citing laws designed to prevent disturbance of public order. But Twitter believes that some of the demands put before it to censor users and content run afoul of India’s own laws protecting free speech and the right to criticize the government. (The company has complied with some censorship demands.)

This standoff has now escalated to the point where the authorities in Delhi are apparently threatening to jail local Twitter employees. Twitter’s defense is that demands to remove accounts didn’t come from courts but from government ministries. Now we know – Twitter cares about the rule of law.

But it looks like the company is selective when it comes to when and where such concerns matter.

Speaking for the New York Times, law professor and former special UN rapporteur on free speech David Kaye seemed bewildered as to why Twitter decided to “take a stand” now – when in the past, it was happy to comply and shut down accounts of Kashmir protesters, for example.

The New York Times – who seem to only just be discovering that social media giants might have “massive and largely unaccountable power” – want to turn the whole thing into yet another vote in favor of imposing “smart government” regulation to resolve any dilemmas.

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