Author: Gohar Aznauryan, first-year Ph.D. student, Multi-Sector Communication
Elon Musk is set to buy Twitter to make Twitter freer and more transparent including eliminating some of the barriers set by the algorithm on the freedom of speech and expression within the platform. This (if not already) can become a problematic situation, or become a dilemma, and questionable for the Indian government, as their leader is one of the most followed political figures on this social network.
The current situation:
Twitter raised concerns about “free speech in India” days after police visited their offices. Police have notified the social media giant after it called a tweet “manipulated by the media”.
Twitter labeled a tweet by ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesman Sambit Patra.
The incident comes amid tense relations between the Indian government and digital companies over new regulatory rules. BJP leaders recently shared screenshots of a document on Twitter that they say was created by the main opposition party’s Congress to highlight the government’s failure to deal with the pandemic. Congress complained to Twitter that the documents were fake, which led Twitter to flag some posts, including Mr. Patra’s, as “manipulated media.”
According to Twitter’s rules, it applies “manipulated media” tags to posts that include “media (video, audio, and images) that has been deceptively altered or fabricated.”
In February 2021, the government introduced new rules regulating digital content on social media and streaming platforms. Under the new rules, social media platforms with more than five million users will be required to appoint a compliance officer, a center contact officer, and a permanent complaints officer. In addition, they will have to trace the sender of a particular message if required by a court or government.
“Silicon Valley’s biggest tech firms have been locked in a tense stand-off with India over strict new information technology rules the government introduced in February. The rules are aimed at regulating online content. They require companies to hire people who can respond swiftly to legal requests to delete posts, among other things — and these executives may be subject to potential criminal liability if flagged content is not removed.” (Madhok, 2021)
Platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp have been given three months to comply with these rules.
In April 2020, India ordered Twitter to remove tweets critical of handling the virus, which it did. Earlier in 2021-year, Twitter also lifted the blocking of several accounts at the request of the authorities. The bills have been linked to ongoing protests by farmers against agricultural reforms. If Twitter didn’t comply, it could mean jail time for Twitter employees in India.
So, the dilemma can be defined as the freedom of speech in a country that keeps the bird in a cage with a taped beak. (Missing Indian flag on the picture)
The sectors within the dilemma:
“In some markets, like the European Union, Twitter and its peers face growing regulatory pressure to bolster content moderation against hate speech and misinformation. In other markets, Twitter has faced pressure to restrict speech critical to local governments. Whatever Musk’s personal views on content enforcement may be, Twitter risks substantial fines and other penalties for not complying with local laws in various countries. In some cases, Twitter has even been banned or threatened with bans.” (Iyengar, 2022)
Several sectors are cross-involved and will be further under pressure with the development of the situation of Musk taking over Twitter: those include – media, cyber security, international relations, and the law-regulatory sector.
Twitter as a social media platform, and one of the first of its kind, has a wide international audience with whom people, and as mentioned political officials share their ideas and opinions through their microblogs. Those tweets are also used by media outlets (news) that rely on those tweets to create a story or a news piece.
Here is where the Indian official’s tweets are being labeled as “Manipulated media.” The media have used those same tweets to cover the news on the communication between the Indian government and Twitter on the new regulations and the protest by farmers.
Another highlight in this same situation can be several tweets by Musk that have been used to cover news related to SpaceX and now him buying Twitter. The article by BusinessToday.In “Elon Musk, Twitter buyout, and a saga of ridiculous tweets: The timeline so far” used Musk’s tweets to create a timeline of the process of how the idea of buying Twitter came and where it has reached so far.
With the development of digital technology and social interaction, another sector in this discussion is Cyber Security. Despite all the regulations created to protect its users, Twitter gives access or allows governments, as indicated above, to contact them and take actions against the tweets made by certain people, thus violating not only their freedom of expression and speech rights but also accessing their data which is a cyber security breach.
Following his reign over Twitter, Musk also proposed to make the platform more transparent which may raise cyber security issues connected to the data of users being accessed by a larger number of companies, or individuals. The breach has not been discussed or forecasted to happen but is a risk that may lead to users leaving the platform.
An important sector in a dilemma is international relations. Twitter being a global platform allowing communication between not only regular citizens but also high-level officials of countries is a system that may impact the further development of relations between the US and India. The company is based in the US, which may create an idea that regulations coming from the company may also be coming from the US (the highlight in this sentence stands on “idea”), which the Indian officials can assume, thus creating a conflicting environment between the countries, also taking into account that India’s prime minister’s accounts (2) are one of the most followed among the leaders of countries.
Last but not least, all the regulations that may impact the conversation between India and Twitter on the freedom of expression is India’s Law on “freedom of speech and expression.”
“… Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution of India also confers on the citizens of India the right “to freedom of speech and expression.” Freedom of speech and expression means the right to express one’s convictions and opinions freely by word of mouth, writing, printing, pictures or any other mode. It also includes the right to propagate or publish the views of other people.” (Social Media and freedom of speech and expression)
While the Indian constitution protects certain free speech rights, it has limitations. Expressions threaten “the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign nations, public order, decency or morals, or in respect of contempt of court, defamation or incitement to crime” are prohibited.
Even before the recent tensions between tech firms and the government, India was among the world’s leading countries seeking to restrict free speech online. From January 1, 2020, to June 1, 2020, India was among the top five countries requesting Twitter to remove content.
Thoughts on the possible solution can be discussed with the specialists from the sectors listed above. One cannot cooperate without the other to create such regulation or propose an idea that can be admissible from the perspective of Twitter as a social media platform the posts of which are used by the media, followed by the expertise of a cyber security specialist who may back the freedom of expression on the website allowing users to post still, and to be acceptable from the perspective of international relations-allowing a mutually beneficial process which will not impact either the relations between Twitter and India or US and India.
A proposed solution could be developing a good filtering system for tweets that can be considered – but not confirmed – by the Indian government – lowering the audience for Tweets that can threaten the security of the nation and the integrity of the state. This can be done using AI. A system developed by Amnesty International called “Troll Patrol in India” allows random users to train AI, so it can filter violent tweets towards women by bringing tweets to users and allowing them to categorize them via its voice and tone, allowing the mechanism to develop its categorization system.
A similar system can be proposed to be developed by an independent group of people who can differ a threatening tweet from a regular note, be hired voluntarily by a 3-rd party company not to be tied to either Twitter or India’s government, and work for a period to train the system, which can later be integrated on Twitter for Tweets related to India, and be used for a trial period to evaluate the level of satisfaction of both parties. Following the results, the decision can be made in an agreement by both parties to either move on with the system or propose a new solution that would be timely and feasible.
This dilemma can be looked at through the lens of Systems analysis. The description is around the system of inserting freedom of expression notes to the platform (Twitter) and as a result having either a banned, edited, or text that is a “Manipulated Media.” As a result, a person using freedom of speech-defined platform inserts text, then the platform defines it as fabricated or bans the post, in an arrangement with the government (depending on the country.)
The systems analysis should be reevaluated both within Twitter, and the Indian Government in terms of understanding their processes of cooperating with each other, and both understand if they both value the freedom of expression as much as the other party.
This can result in a better understanding of each-others needs within the cooperation, or elimination of Twitter on the territory of India.
In any way, the protection of freedom of expression is a priority as mentioned by soon to be head of Twitter. His further actions may redefine the Indian population’s presence (including their governments) on the platform.
Iyengar, R. (2022, May 7). How Elon musk could impact Twitter’s battles over speech abroad | CNN business. CNN. Retrieved May 8, 2022, from https://www.cnn.com/2022/05/07/tech/elon-musk-twitter-global-free-speech/index.html
Madhok, D. (2021, July 12). Twitter is a mess in India. here’s how it got there. CNN. Retrieved May 2, 2022, from https://www.cnn.com/2021/07/09/tech/twitter-india-strategy-intl-hnk/index.html
Social Media and freedom of speech and expression. Legal Service India – Law, Lawyers and Legal Resources. (n.d.). Retrieved May 2, 2022, from https://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-426-social-media-and-freedom-of-speech-and-expression.html
Twitter adds ‘manipulated media’ warning to BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra’s ‘toolkit’ tweet. The Wire. (n.d.). Retrieved May 2, 2022, from https://thewire.in/politics/twitter-adds-manipulated-media-warning-to-bjp-spokesperson-sambit-patras-toolkit-tweet