Shortly after Twitter permanently banned Donald Trump from using its services, the outgoing American president found a pocket of support from unusual quarters – Indian politicians.
All through Saturday functionaries and lawmakers, particularly from the ruling BJP, commented on the rationale behind the ban. One such person was Tejasvi Surya, a BJP MP who heads the party’s youth wing and, importantly, is a member of the parliamentary panel on Information Technology.
Social media platforms like Facebook, which have monopolies over content sharing, have been given “rights to alter our rights”, Mr Surya told NDTV Saturday night. He said that while the combined user base of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp – over 80 crore – was more than any news channel, the algorithms used to identify posts violating safe viewing policies “have a bias”.
“Twitter may say he has violated certain norms but my concern is all tech giants have such big monopolies of information broadcasting (and) have biased algorithms. Why are we giving them rights to alter our rights? This is the big question democracies must answer,” he said.
“Why are we allowing ‘intermediaries’, which by law must not deal with content, the right to monitor or alter depending on their algorithms? This must be discussed among democracies across world because this poses a serious threat to fair and free elections,” Mr Surya added.
Debate on the freedom of expression on social media made headlines around the world this week after Twitter and Facebook announced a permanent ban on President Trump’s accounts after concluding he had incited the violence at the Capitol building on Wednesday night.
Facebook cited his “use of our platform to incite violent insurrection against a democratically-elected government.” Twitter, which has deleted tweets with allegations about the US election, said it had “permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence”.
The bans have invited praise and censure in equally furious measures, with critics of the President welcoming the move and supporters arguing it violates Trump’s right to freedom of speech.
In India the debate has focused on allowing hate speech to circulate online. Last month there was controversy after Facebook said there was no cause to act against the Bajrang Dal – a right-wing group with ties to the ruling BJP – despite it being tagged as supporting violence against minorities.
Also in India Facebook has been accused of not applying hate speech rules uniformly.
Speaking to NDTV Mr Surya said social media platforms were barred from altering, monitoring or changing content because they were viewed as “intermediaries” under Section 79 of the IT Act.
Under such laws, he said, social media platforms did not have authority to remove content. If they want to do so, then they must count themselves as media platforms and be held accountable accordingly. “They must not whimsically (and) based on algorithms remove content,” he added.
Mr Surya also referred to Section 69 of the IT Act that outlines provisions for reporting of hate speech or illegal activity to the authorities, who can then ask the platform to take action.
“Unless there is a regulator – a state authority – which can decide if something is hate speech or not, and then take action, this is going to be dangerous… we’re letting these platforms decide what is right or wrong,” he argued.
Earlier Saturday Mr Surya flagged the Trump ban, calling it a “wake up call for democracies” and saying: “If they can do this to POTUS (President of The United States), they can do this to anyone.”