Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata party (bjp) have been early and avid exploiters of social media. But with Mr Modi’s popularity tumbling in recent months, his government is turning against these useful messengers. At the end of May, it began enforcing new rules that, among other things, make internet-based conduits of information legally liable for any content that they carry. The onus to protect Indians’ freedoms lies with their elected government, not foreign tech firms, writes Bhupender Yadav, a top bjp official. The ministry of information technology accused Twitter of attempting to “dictate terms to the world’s largest democracy”.
It said that Twitter routinely turned a blind eye to content hostile to India, such as the use of the term “Indian variant” to describe a nasty mutation of the coronavirus. The government asked Twitter to remove its response to a political smear campaign against the bjp, but the company refused. The bjp has 180m members, making it the world’s biggest political party. India’s tangle of laws and slow and capricious courts make the task of moderation infinitely complicated. It makes sense, at a minimum, for big multinationals to face some degree of local scrutiny.
But in the absence of universal rules and standards, or of handing Chinese-style censorship powers to a single agency, it must rely largely on trust. The internet is a marvel, but older ways of communicating still work, too. The trouble is that, while India’s new rules make it clear that the government no longer trusts internet firms to police themselves, its own behaviour brings into question whether ordinary Indian citizens can trust their government.
Source: The Economist, Asia June 5 Edition
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