06 Mar 2021

Why India farmers protest is supported by social media giants

Social media companies say they will refuse take down requests by Indian government and make their own judgement instead

The Indian government is reportedly threatening to jail employees of Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp, if the companies fail to adhere to law enforcement requests to remove content and hand over data linked to mass protests by farmers who are rallying against agricultural reforms.

The tech companies say they will abide by international law and by the principles of an open internet. The first rule, of course, of international law is that you must comply with the local law of each country where you operate. The term “principles of an open internet” is meaningless because nobody really know what the term actually mean.

India has been developing new guidelines for social media companies to fight unlawful or violent content, and misinformation. The tech companies will be required to remove questionable content, and in some cases, track down the originator of messages.

Whilst I don’t know enough about the farmers’ protest in India, and whilst I am sure that the protesters have a positive and a justified cause, what I do know, is that India is the largest democracy in the world. As such, India has a lively and a vibrant democratic system, hundreds of television channels, dozens of news channels and plenty of politicians who passionately represent their constituents.

Whether you agree or not with the farmers’ cause, is a matter left for the good people of India to debate and to resolve. Certainly it should not be settled by a pevileged few who have positioned themselves in charge of internet censorship.

In this context, it seems that if the Indian government, or any government, particularly a democratically elected one, tells Facebook and Twitter that they have to remove certain content from their platform, because the content is unlawful, then, the social media giants should comply with the orders like everyone else even if they don’t like a particular request, which might not sit right with their own political or social agendas.

Like everyone else, social media companies must go through the due process and if they want to overturn a law enforcement request, there are lawful ways for them to do so, for example, by asking a local court to overrule the request.

It is in nobody’s interest (other than their own) for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Google, to be above the law of any country in the world, let alone the largest democracy.

What is most baffling about this situation is the fact that in the US, the very same companies are taking down lawful content but in India, they insist that unlawful content should remain on their platforms.

It is therefore somewhat difficult to resist the thought that Facebook and Twitter don’t really care about the farmers in India or about democracy at all. What they really are fighting for is censorship. Not whether there should or should not be censorship of online speech, but rather, who should be in charge of the ministry of truth, them, the millionaires, or the people who elect accountable governments. Presumably, if this had anything to do with free speech, you wouldn’t have had so many people being banned in America for unlawful speech.

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