Twitter is struggling to comply with India’s increasingly stringent online speech regulations
On Tuesday, Twitter revealed that it had filed a lawsuit against the Indian government, the latest salvo in an ongoing battle over the country’s harsh speech rules. The action follows an order for Twitter to erase a number of accounts and content that violate Indian obscenity and defamation laws. Twitter has since withdrawn the posts, but it is seeking judicial protection from future such demands.
Last May, India established new IT rules for online content, which was quickly followed by a police raid on Twitter’s India operations. In July of the following year, Indian regulators threatened to make Twitter accountable for any further violations committed by its users.
Twitter has long claimed that it conforms to local speech laws — but Indian rules concerning obscenity and seditious speech are unusually harsh. Previously, the country employed speech prohibitions to suppress environmental concerns or broader discussion of internal political struggles. In a 2016 study on the topic, prominent author Arundhati Roy, who faced sedition charges for views regarding the Kashmir conflict, criticized the system as both chaotic and repressive. “The most terrifying thing is that any lunatic may go and file a complaint against you,” Roy stated at the time. “It’s a significant amount of harassment.”
Twitter’s legal battle is exacerbated by persistent uncertainty surrounding Elon Musk’s effort to buy the company and take it private. Musk committed in June to stress-free speech values as Twitter’s owner, but he also said he would observe local regulations and hinted at personnel layoffs that would make effectively defending the company’s position in India more difficult. Despite having signed an agreement to acquire the company, Musk has expressed misgivings about the acquisition’s success, generating further concerns about the company’s future.