This article originally appeared in TheWire. An excerpt is reproduced here.
Transparency and a voluntary act
This latest attempt came to light because Twitter disclosed this action in the Lumen Database, a project that houses voluntary submissions. And while Twitter is being criticised for complying, reports suggest that the company wasn’t the only one that received such a request. It just happened to be the only one that chose to disclose it proactively.
Expanding on legal scholar Jack Balkin’s model for speech regulation, there are ‘3C’s’ available (cooperation, cooption and confrontation) for companies in their interaction with state power. Apart from Twitter’s seemingly short-lived dalliance with confrontation in February 2021, technology platforms have mostly chosen the cooperation and cooption options in India (in contrast to their posturing in the west).
This is particularly evident in their reaction to the recent Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code. We’ll ask for transparency, but what we’re likely to get is ‘transparency theatre’ – ranging from inscrutable reports, to a deluge of information which, as communications scholar Sun-ha Hong argues, ‘won’t save us’.
Reports allege that the most recent Twitter posts were flagged because they were misleading. But, at the time of writing, it isn’t clear exactly which law(s) were allegedly violated. We can demand that social media platforms are more transparent, but the current legal regime dealing with ‘blocking’ (Section 69A of the IT ACT) place no such obligations on the government. On the contrary, as lawyers Gurshabad Grover and Torsha Sorkar point out, it enables them to issue ‘secret blocking’ orders. Civil society groups have advocated against these provisions, but the political class (whether in government or opposition) is yet to make any serious attempts to change the status quo.