As Musk Takes Charge, And India Brings New IT Rules, Will Twitter Be A ‘Free Bird’, Or Will Its Wings Be Clipped?

Elon Musk has completed his $44 billion takeover of microblogging giant Twitter, after months of delay, criticism, verbal battles, and legal dramas. Though the billionaire tweeted “the bird is freed” which could mean the completion of his takeover, questions related to the freedom of such social media platforms are still cropping up.

According to media reports, Musk arrived at Twitter’s headquarters in San Francisco and met with engineers, as well as ad executives. It was also reported that several top executives, including the CEO, Parag Agrawal, have been fired.

Musk who once called himself a “free speech absolutist,” earlier stated that he wants to make Twitter more open to all types of commentary.

So, many users are now curious to know when former US President Donald Trump would return to Twitter as his account was permanently suspended after the deadly riot took place in the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.

But the completion of the deal and Musk’s takeover has prompted questions over the platform’s future direction—especially in India.

Government vs Twitter

It is no secret that Twitter had been facing some hard times in India. In one incident last year, Indian officials had a virtual meeting with the microblogging giant.

Twitter was then told that though it can do business in the country it has to follow the country’s laws irrespective of the company’s own rules and guidelines.

The social media behemoth also had to face courtroom dramas regarding the appointment of the chief compliance officer, nodal contact person, and resident grievance officer in India.

However, now the Indian government reportedly intends to proceed with the creation of committees that will have the final say on what social media content remains or is removed, with an amendment to the IT Rules, 2021, putting this into effect.

A proposal was first presented in June as a draft notification seeking public feedback. At that time some critics said that the Centre’s proposed grievance redressal committee would give the government the final say on online speech.

But now, it was reported that a new version will keep the base concept but will add multiple grievance committees instead of one. It would also allow intermediaries to make “reasonable efforts” to ensure users do not post unlawful content.

Among other things, the new amendments apparently proposed the formation of multiple grievance appellate committees led by government-appointed functionaries to hear appeals from people against decisions made by social media companies, which includes Twitter.

The need or importance of multiple grievance redressal bodies is still unclear.

But such moves trigger questions about Twitter India’s future under Musk’s “free speech” stance amid pressure from the Indian government on social media companies.

Blue bird’s future

Rajarshi Bhattacharyya, chairman and managing director of ProcessIT Global, spoke to News18 to explain what Musk’s takeover means in terms of the future of the platform in the country.

“Better streamlining of content on the platform is expected now as Musk had earlier agreed that Twitter should follow the local law in India,” he said.

Bhattacharyya said that the government’s policies and rules for such intermediaries will not change and it will expect all platforms, irrespective of who owns them, to comply with Indian laws and social media rules.

Additionally, he noted that the platform should ensure provocative content that could lead to social unrest and a threat to national security is brought down.

The expert said: “I expect to see an improvement in the ongoing situation with this new development at Twitter.”

Bhattacharyya further suggested that Twitter should ensure the published content does not adversely impact the functioning of the government, social fabric, and individual sentiments, as well as that it strictly follows the government regulations on this.

“The platform should act responsibly and ensure that posts that disrupt the sovereignty, integrity, and security of India and its relations with foreign countries be blocked,” he added.

Niraj Bora, founder of Surmount Business Advisors Pvt Ltd, stated that he believes Musk probably wants to have a more democratic environment, without much moderation, while the Indian government might have different ideas with respect to the expression of thoughts.

But he said: “Since India is among the top 3 markets for Twitter, I think Twitter will align itself to the local regulations eventually.”

He also believes that Twitter would focus on monetising its users in India rather than involve in conflicts with local governments worldwide.

According to Bora, this is because Twitter has ripple effects; so if Indian users or celebrities are out of the platform, global followers would follow them elsewhere and spend time in other social media places.

In terms of monitoring the content by the government, Bora noted that it would be limited to a few accounts.

He said: “Twitter or the government won’t want millions of users impacted because of conflicts due to a few accounts. Worst-case scenario, courts would decide how content is censored. Beyond that, banning Twitter won’t be a scenario since it’s not helpful to the govt and the company.”

Mithun Vijay Kumar, a content management professional, author, and political analyst, told News18 that considering what Musk stated earlier regarding compliance with local laws, Twitter in all likelihood will align with the social media regulations of the Indian government in the future also.

However, he said: “Musk is known for making hit-and-miss business decisions and also for solving high-complexity problems with his companies exhibiting consistent performance. Given the unpredictable and abrupt nature of his business strategies, the possibility of a disagreement underscoring policy matters cannot be ruled out completely.”

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