India: Twitter enforces anti-abuse rules

January 4, 2018

In order to reduce content of abusive nature, Twitter has now updated its policy and imposed anti-abuse rules on its users. Enforcing the said rules, one of the first accounts to be targeted was Britain First, which had allegedly posted videos regarding Muslims engaged in acts of violence. Twitter also suspended accounts of well-known white nationalists in December for allegedly stirring up hatred.

The company has emphasized that it is taking several factors into consideration while enforcing the rules including the context of the post, cultural and political considerations and the severity of the violation. The rules also address hateful images or symbols, including those attached to user profiles. As per the rules, if certain content is required to be posted which seemingly contains images that may be considered hateful, it is now required to mark the content as ‘sensitive media’ so that a warning could be given to other users who could then decide whether to view the post or not.

Sending offensive content was earlier dealt in India under Section 66A of the Information Technology (Amendment) Act, 2008. As per Section 66A, it was prohibited to send offensive content using an online medium. Such offensive content included offensive messages of a menacing character, or a message that the sender knows to be false but is sent for the purpose of ‘causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, or ill will.’ The offender could have been charged up to 3 years of imprisonment along with a fine under this provision. However, since the said section was being misused by police officials to arrest innocent persons for posting critical comments about social and political issues, the Supreme Court in 2015 declared Section 66A of Information Technology Act as unconstitutional and struck it down.

In furtherance of the same, the Supreme Court had upheld the validity of Section 69B and the 2011 guidelines for the implementation of the Information Technology Act which allowed the government to block websites if their content had the potential to create communal disturbance, social disorder or affect India’s relationship with other countries.

The constant debate of prohibitions regarding online content against the liberty and freedom of expression of the user still continues, however, with Twitter’s step to update its policies and taking active steps to remove violent and hateful accounts from its platform seems to be a step in the right direction as the platform itself is regulating the content rather than leaving the job in the hands of the government. Internally monitoring activities can seemingly lead to better curb abusive content.

Further, Twitter users could earlier report only particular posts which they found to be offensive, however, the users can now report profiles of organizations as well as other user profiles.

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