Police in India have summoned Twitter’s top executive over a viral video of an elderly Muslim man being assaulted, as the micro-blogging site remains locked in a dispute with the government over new internet regulations.
In the latest escalation, Uttar Pradesh state police on Thursday sent a written notice to Twitter India head Manish Maheshwari to appear before officials to record his statement within seven days.
Twitter faces allegations of failing to stop the spread of a viral video on its platform of a Muslim man’s beating in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, that the local police say spread “hate and enmity” between Hindu and Muslim communities.
The two videos in question, which were widely shared on Twitter, showed first an elderly Muslim being beaten and having his beard forcibly cut off by a group of younger men, and in the second video shows the victim recounting the incident and crying, saying he was made to chant a Hindu slogan during the ordeal.
Ghaziabad Police did not dispute the veracity of the videos, but said their investigations showed the violence was triggered by a dispute over an item the elderly man was selling and not any religious motivation.
Uttar Pradesh’s police then filed a case against Twitter India and seven other for allegedly stoking communal rivalry between Hindus and Muslim and causing public mischief. The individuals named include journalists who shared the videos, describing their contents.
The notice on Thursday said: "Some people used their Twitter handles to spread hatred and enmity in the society and Twitter did not take cognisance.
"Writings and works which promoted enmity and affected harmony between different communities in the country and the state were encouraged and such anti-society messages were allowed to go viral."
This came as India’s federal government was at loggerheads with the US social media giant and IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad issued the government’s sharpest statement yet, saying Twitter has “failed to comply with the Intermediary Guidelines that came into effect from 26 May”.
His statement refers to new regulations passed by India this year which require social media companies to comply with police in taking down posts deemed problematic by the authorities, and to appoint a grievance officer who is personally and criminally responsible for doing so. The law is being contested in courts by rights organisations, who say it is a tool to crack down on freedom of speech and the press.
The new IT rules state that platforms who fail to comply will no longer be protected from prosecution over the content that they host.
“While Twitter has been over-enthusiastic about its fact-checking mechanism, it’s failure to act in multiple cases like UP is perplexing and indicates its inconsistency in fighting misinformation,” Mr Prasad said in a tweet.
There are numerous queries arising as to whether Twitter is entitled to safe harbour provision. However, the simple fact of the matter is that Twitter has failed to comply with the Intermediary Guidelines that came into effect from the 26th of May.
— Ravi Shankar Prasad (@rsprasad) June 16, 2021
In the video in question, the elderly man, Abdul Samad Saifi, had alleged that the accused offered him an auto ride and beat him up, forcing him to chant Jai Shri Ram (Glory to Lord Ram, a Hindu deity).
But police investigating the case denied the claims and said some of the attackers were themselves Muslim, not Hindus as claimed. Police said the attackers beat the man up as he sold them a religious tabeez (amulet) that they later believed did not work.
Twitter has previously said that it is making all efforts to adhere to the new regulations and that it will continue to update the government on its progress. It did not comment directly on the police summons.