India’s Supreme Court has asked for the government and Twitter’s response to a petition seeking a mechanism to check fake news, hate messages and what officials consider seditious and incendiary content on social media platforms.
The case highlights a standoff between the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and free speech advocates who criticise the governing party for trying to silence opponents.
The government recently asked Twitter to block hundreds of accounts and posts that it says have been spreading misinformation and provocative content linked to farmers who have been protesting agricultural laws since November on the outskirts of New Delhi.
Ashwini Kumar Dubey, the lawyer for petitioner Vinit Goenka, told the court on Friday there were hundreds of fake Twitter handles and Facebook accounts in the name of eminent people and dignitaries that were being used to tarnish the image of opponents and the Indian government.
The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the petition after getting responses from the government and Twitter.
The New Delhi Television news channel said the government has drawn up draft rules to regulate social media, streaming and digital news content, which will include a code of ethics and a mechanism to report inappropriate content and ask for its removal. The proposed rules have not been made public.
On Thursday, Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad warned United States-based social media websites – he named Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn in Parliament – of “strict action” if they were “misused to spread fake news and fuel violence”.
Twitter refused to fully comply with last week’s government order to remove some accounts, including those of news organisations, journalists, activists and politicians, citing its “principles of defending protected speech and freedom of expression”.
Twitter has temporarily blocked some accounts but only within India.
“We will continue to advocate for the right of free expression on behalf of the people we serve. We are exploring options under Indian law – both for Twitter and for the accounts that have been impacted. We remain committed to safeguarding the health of the conversation occurring on Twitter, and strongly believe that the tweets should flow,” Twitter said.