On Tuesday, news broke that India's IT ministry had announced in a filing with New Delhi's High Court that social media site Twitter had lost its legal immunity to what its users in the country posted. The choice came after India had imposed new tech regulation in May, and Twitter hadn't complied.
That statement was the first time that the Indian government officially stated that Twitter has lost its immunity, although they had pointed out the non-compliance plenty of times before.
It seems to have done the trick: Just days later, Twitter's complying.
What Twitter's Agreeing To
Many of the requirements are administrative: Twitter has appointed an interim chief compliance officer, has plans to appoint a grievance officer within a few days, and will set up an office in India within eight weeks, according to a lawyer representing the social media giant.
Twitter will be creating user grievance reports on a regular basis. It will also be subject to what sure looks a lot like censorship from the Indian government — taking down posts when told to, under the threat of jail time for those execs who don't comply.
Social media platforms that have already agreed to this type of oversight include Google, Facebook, and WhatsApp, although WhatsApp also took the time to sue the government over the new regulation back in May.
What Does It Mean?
Here's how Bloomberg summed up the power that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration has under the new tech regulation:
“Officials have demanded Facebook and Twitter take down hundreds of posts this year, divulge sensitive user information and submit to a regulatory regime that includes potential jail terms for executives if companies don’t comply.”
India's TikTok ban in June 2020 is further evidence that the country means business when to comes to determining what India's populations are up to online. Twitter's capitulation indicates that social media companies don't think it's a fight worth continuing.
One other takeaway here: Twitter really doesn't want to lose the liability protection it currently enjoys, making the removal of legal immunity a very effective stick for governments who want to exert more control over the platform.
Big Tech Is Getting Pushback
2021 marks yet another year of governments around the globe continuing to tighten the screws on social media platforms and the huge tech companies that run them, with the US, UK, EU, and Australia all considering regulation.
Laws have been lax for a while, but the US followed up a lengthy anti-trust investigation by introducing five new bills just last month. We've previously explained what each one aims to do, and the potential impact could be good for healthy competition.
Will the results be positive by adding necessary safeguards to content? Will they be negative, tamping down free speech and giving governments a backdoor into private user data? Or will they be some combination of the two? We've yet to find out.