Elon Musk’s Twitter: How his free speech argument could play out in India


Now that the richest person in the world, renowned for his unpredictable comments and inscrutable politics, is Twitter ownerhow could the microblogging site that is a favorite of politicians in India – Prime Minister Narendra Modi, almost his entire cabinet and most chief ministers included – change?

Musk’s strong insistence on free speech predicts dissonance in India.

Musk has described himself as a “free speech absolutist” and has made it the core of his Twitter agenda.

“Free speech,” he said after winning the bid, “is the foundation of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital public square where issues vital to the future of humanity”.

He expressed frustration that content moderators on Twitter are intervening too frequently and with too heavy a hand, and tweeted that he hoped “even [his] the worst critics stay on Twitter, because that’s what free speech means”.

But unlike in the United States, in India, where Twitter is a perpetual battleground of claims and disputes, freedom of expression is not an absolute right. The First Amendment to the Constitution in 1951 introduced “reasonable limitations” on the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by section 19(1)(a).

The restrictions were placed in the interests of “the sovereignty and integrity of India, state security, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in connection with contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence”.

These “reasonable restrictions”, which were later upheld by the Supreme Court, could potentially run counter to Musk’s maximalist ideal of free speech. The Indian government has repeatedly warned social media platforms that the content they host must abide by the laws of the country.

Under section 69(A) of the Information Technology Act 2000, the government can issue takedown notices to social media platforms such as Twitter if a user shares content restricted under the Constitution, which companies must then remove.

This is legally part of their due diligence process to ensure they don’t lose their “intermediary” status, a key principle that has allowed social media platforms to thrive in democracies.

If a social media company were to lose its “intermediary” status, it would mean courts could hold it liable for third-party comments posted on its platform, opening the company up to more litigation.

In theory, if Twitter chose to take a stand against government blocking orders, it could potentially cause problems for its India-based compliance director. Last year, Twitter was then the head of India Manish Maheshwari has been summoned by UP Police after a video spreading false information went viral on the platform.

the IT rules announced in February last year require social media platforms to appoint a compliance officer whose responsibility is to ensure that the company complies with all the provisions prescribed in the Rules.

In the event that a company fails to do so, according to the Rules, its compliance officer could be held “liable in any proceedings relating to any relevant third-party information, data or communication link made available or hosted by this intermediary if it fails to ensure that this intermediary exercises due diligence in the performance of its duties,” which means that the person could potentially be imprisoned if Twitter fails to perform its due diligence as a social media intermediary.

In August 2021, Twitter told the Delhi High Court that it had appointed “permanent” to the positions of compliance officer-resident complaints officer and nodal contact in accordance with the 2021 IT Regulations.

In July, Twitter told the court it had appointed a “contingent worker through a third-party contractor” to the post.

Donald Trump’s Twitter account could be restored, giving him back his most powerful megaphone.

After four years of largely accommodating Trump, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Shopify, Twitch, etc. kicked the former US president off their platforms following the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol in Washington DC.

It was an overnight reversal of tech company policy toward Trump and other political leaders, which has largely been a symbiotic partnership. In ban itTwitter has clearly responded to growing calls for enforcement action against social media companies for allowing the president to peddle lies and hate on their platforms over the past four years.

In his final hours on Twitter, Trump struck, not for the first time, at Section 230 the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which allows Internet platforms to publish and moderate third-party content without being held legally responsible for what they say, and which the President had previously threatened to repeal, to “outlaw” freedom of expression.

While Musk hasn’t addressed the issue of Trump’s possible return to Twitter — whether to his 84.5 million followers on the platform or elsewhere — his repeated statements on free speech have fueled anticipation both right and left of the political divide that the former president could be reinstated and then he could use his favorite platform for his highly anticipated bid to win back the White House in 2024.

A sign outside Twitter’s headquarters in San Francisco, Monday, April 25, 2022. (AP Photo: Jed Jacobsohn)

After being kicked out of Twitter, Trump attempted to create his own social media startup, Social truth, to be an alternative platform, but the effort largely failed. For the record, Trump said in an interview that he probably wouldn’t return to Twitter.

Musk suggested that Twitter should open up its algorithm. But that’s easier said than done.

During a live stream of a TED talk recently, Musk said Twitter’s algorithm should be based on an open-source model, so users of the platform can see the code by which Twitter determines which which tweets are promoted and which are hidden on users’ timeline.

Open-sourcing, he said, would be better than “having tweets mysteriously promoted and demoted with no idea what’s going on.”

On March 24, Musk launched a Twitter poll asking if “Twitter’s algorithm should be open source,” to which 82.7% of the more than 1.1 million votes cast answered “yes.”

Making such a change to Twitter’s software would lay bare the role computer programs play in controlling content posted on the platform. Western conservatives have repeatedly complained that Twitter’s algorithm is biased against them and appreciate Musk’s stated commitment to demonstrating that there is no “behind-the-scenes manipulation” going on.

That said, however, Musk might be oversimplifying the issue – as a Washington Post article put it, “As social media companies have grown, the software that drives their recommendation engines have become so sprawling and complex that their analysis would require access”. to a firehose of data so immense that most people wouldn’t even have access to a computer powerful enough to analyze it.

The article quotes Nick Seaver, who studies the algorithms that drive recommendation engines at Tufts University, saying that “the algorithm is not a thing”, and that “people inside Twitter also want understand how their algorithm works”.

According to Seaver, quoted in ‘The Post’, the systems are “so complex that tech companies themselves often struggle to figure out why their software showed a user one post over another.”

Musk wants to “defeat the bots”. Most would agree that is a good thing.

Before offering to buy Twitter, Musk had expressed skepticism about the social media platform‘s suitability in the way it is currently run.

On April 9, after a list of the “10 most followed Twitter accounts” was posted on Twitter, Musk tweeted, “Most of these ‘top’ accounts rarely tweet and post very little content. Is Twitter Dying?

The list had former US President Barack Obama leading with 131.4 million followers, followed by pop stars Justin Bieber (114.3 million), Katy Perry (108.8 million) and Rihanna (105.9 million). ). But there was also Musk himself, as well as Prime Minister Modi, who uses his personal and official Twitter accounts to great effect.

On April 22, Musk tweeted, “If our Twitter bid succeeds, we’ll beat the spambots or die trying!” He has since said he wants to make Twitter “better than ever” by “defeating spambots and authenticating all humans”.

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