Summary: In late June 2021, Twitter briefly suspended the account of Ravi Shankar Prasad, the Indian government's Technology Minister because his content violated copyright. Although Prasad was given a copy of the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) takedown request, he posted a short Twitter thread that claimed this moderation action was Twitter silencing him, rather than simply responding to a takedown notice targeting alleged copyright violations.
According to Prasad, the removal of his tweets and brief suspension were the result of him not aligning himself with Twitter's "agenda." He claimed Twitter would "arbitrarily" do the same to others who did not "tow the line that they draw."
Prasad's pushback against Twitter's decision to suspend his account based on claims of copyright violations came after weeks of Indian government officials' public criticism of American social media companies. Shortly after this critique, the new Information Technology Rules law went into effect on May 26, 2021.
The new law affects multiple US social media platforms. It requires them to remove certain content within 24 hours of notification and forces them to set up local offices in India where complaints can be handled by newly-created compliance, contact, and grievance officers. While the new law has been in the works since 2018, its passage was accelerated by Twitter's refusal to block tweets/accounts associated with the long-running "Farmer's Protest" that greeted the Indian government's passage of laws that many farmers believe do more to aid corporate farms and large agricultural concerns than the many small, independent farmers that populate the country.
Earlier in June, the Indian government issued a "final warning" to Twitter, ordering it to comply with the new law or "face consequences." Twitter has since temporarily removed nearly 500 tweets associated with the Farmer's Protests. During the same time period, its offices in India were raided by Indian law enforcement after Twitter labelled a tweet from a member of India’s ruling party as "misinformation."
- Which country's laws should be applied to social media content? Should it be the country in which the tweet originated (in this case, India)? Or should it be the laws in which the headquarters of a platform is located (in this case, the US?)
- Should a foreign person be subjected to another country's laws if they are using a platform of that other country?
- Should Twitter process DMCA counternotices (if any) before removing content and/or suspending alleged infringers?
- How should a company handle backlash from a government when moderating content violation issues such as a copyright violation?
- When laws conflict (as in this case, where Indian law requires notice and the opportunity to challenge the claim before content is moderated, whereas US law does not), can platforms find a middle ground that removes some of the friction (for instance, temporarily "hiding" the content while waiting for a counternotice to be served rather than immediately suspending accounts)?
- Does showing consistency in moderation efforts (like those involving the DMCA process) help head off claims that some of these efforts are "politically-motivated?"
- When it's impossible to please both sides (in this case, foreign government officials and content owners protecting their intellectual property), which party should be prioritized?
- Should pressure from foreign government officials be allowed to alter moderation efforts involving intellectual property owners?
Resolution: This chain of events appears to have resulted in government officials like Prasad believing normal moderation actions by Twitter are actually a form of censorship targeting a government that was recently highly critical of US social media services. This has led to even more problems for Twitter: the Indian government has filed a request with a New Delhi court to strip Twitter of its liability protections for user-generated content. For the time being, Twitter's approach to the handling of DMCA takedown notices appears unchanged, even when it involves the accounts of foreign government officials.
Written by The Copia Institute, June 2021