A day after the Centre’s warning to Twitter, Union Cabinet Minister for Information Technology and Law Ravi Shankar Prasad indicated that stronger regulatory measures are on the anvil for social media. Prasad told Rajya Sabha on Thursday that his department and the Information and Broadcasting Ministry are working on specific guidelines for social-media platforms. “The work is in progress,” he said, and asked social-media platforms to strictly follow Indian laws and the Constitution, especially on reasonable restrictions to freedom of speech.
Prasad reiterated the government’s stated firmness on the direction to Twitter to suspend about 500 accounts and the counter-assertion by the microblogging site on grounds of freedom of speech. The Minister asserted that no platform is above the Constitution of the country. “We respect social media. It has empowered common people,” he said. But he said the Centre will not allow misuse of social media for spreading violence. “We have formed a platform to bust fake news. We appreciate the work that social-media platforms have done here, but they must respect the Constitution of India,” he said.
The Minister said the Centre is ceased of the standing committee recommendations for creating a set of guidelines. “The Ministries of IT and Information Broadcasting will review the guidelines soon. These platforms cannot make a law of their own where the Constitution has no place,” he said.
The US administration, on its part, maintained that it is committed to “supporting democratic values” in general and so far as the recent controversy over suspension of Twitter accounts is concerned, the matter would be dealt by the company individually. “What I would say generally is that around the world, we are committed to supporting democratic values, including freedom of expression. I think when it comes to Twitter’s policies we would have to refer you to Twitter itself,” said US Department of State spokesperson Ned Price.
Prasad said the Centre is in touch with Twitter. “We have had a meeting with Twitter. If the Capitol Hill is attacked and the US police takes action, these micro blogging companies stand with them. But if the Red Fort is attacked, they stand with protesters. This double standard will not be allowed. Freedom of speech is subject to reasonable restrictions because of sovereignty and integrity of India. What is the reason for the hashtags such as ‘Narendra Modi massacre’ of farmers,” he said.
He maintained that the Centre is committed to freedom of speech. “This government is led by leaders who have fought for freedom of individuals, media and independence of judiciary particularly during Emergency. Our commitment to freedom of media is total. We are equally concerned about the safety, security and sovereignty of India,” he said.
Issues of privacy
He said the Centre will also address the issues of privacy when we come up with a guidelines. “The work is in progress. I would urge the social media to measure the unbridled exposure on the standards of your own guidelines and take action,” he said. Business Line