A Californian social media giant will be directly liable for content posted to its online platform in India.

Indian authorities have stripped Twitter Inc. of its legal intermediary status, which prevented the San Francisco-headquartered company from being sued for hosting certain third-party text, images, and videos.

Uttar Pradesh Police accuses the business of inciting “disorder” by sharing footage of multiple Hindu men assaulting one elderly Muslim man in Ghaziabad. The video quickly went viral, and thousands of users shared the content, condemning the alleged attack as “religiously motivated.”

However, officers found no conclusive evidence to prove the conflict was due to religion and instead suspected it was simply a business transaction that went wrong. The elderly man was only attacked after selling faulty amulets to his alleged assailants. The victim’s family deny this was the motivation.

Twitter India is also accused of failing to immediately remove the videos despite receiving a police statement on June 14 that ruled out religion as a possible motivation.

Indian Communications and Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad strongly criticized the business for ignoring official data and spreading misinformation.

“What happened in Uttar Pradesh (UP) was illustrative of Twitter’s arbitrariness in fighting fake news,” Prasad said according to NDTV. “While Twitter has been over enthusiastic about its fact-checking mechanism, its failure to act in multiple cases like UP is perplexing.”

The minister also questioned the multinational’s commitment to “free speech.”

“[Twitter] chooses the path of deliberate defiance when it comes to the intermediary guidelines,” he said. “Additionally, it chooses a policy of flagging manipulated media, only when it suits its likes and dislikes.”

Police summoned Twitter India Managing Director Manish Maheshwari to explain why his employer failed to comply with local regulations and remove “misleading content” sooner.

The social media company claims its content moderation team eventually removed about 50 different posts of the video at the time of publication. However, the police is still pursuing litigation.

Legal status gone

On May 25, the Indian Government amended regulations for social networking platforms with more than 50,000 users, and instructed Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter to comply.

The changes include hiring Indian officials to address user complaints and facilitate compliance. They also require removing flagged content within 36 hours and sexually exploitative material on the same day.

If a company refuses to follow the guidelines, they face potentially losing their legal protection as intermediaries.

BL understands, from a legal standpoint, this intermediary status has many similarities to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act in the United States. The U.S. legislation states no “provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider,” according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation website.

Global implications

Nigeria indefinitely banned Twitter from operating in the country for blocking a video of President Muhammadu Buhari.

Donald Trump applauded the decision back home, and encouraged more countries to hold Twitter accountable for its selective censorship.

The former president has signed multiple executive orders for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to adopt similar measures. However, the FCC took no direct action against selective censorship on social media.

If successful, the Indian lawsuit could set a precedent for nations to counter anti-conservative bias at social media companies.

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