Twitter has agreed to adhere to new Indian Government regulations on content removals and censorship, after the Indian Government threatened to remove its legal protection over content posted by users, in the latest escalation of dispute between the platform and Indian authorities.
On Tuesday, the Indian Government said that Twitter would no longer be granted liability protection against user-generated content due its failure to comply with the nation's new IT rules, which, among other elements, set tough new parameters around the swift removal of content, and sharing of information on individual users, based on legal requests.
Now, Twitter has agreed to uphold the new regulations, despite hesitation around what they actually mean for user speech and protection.
As per Bloomberg:
"Twitter pledged to “fully comply” with India’s new internet regulations, caving in a dispute with the government over rules that critics say curtail privacy and free speech."
Along with aligning with the new regulations, Twitter will also appoint an interim chief compliance officer, and will establish a new Indian office within eight weeks.
That could open up the platform to more requests from the Indian Government to censor certain topics and users, which has become a major sticking point for Twitter in recent months. But at the same time, Twitter needs India to maximize its growth, which puts it in a difficult position.
As noted, Twitter has faced various challenges in India of late, with the platform looking to stand firm in the face of Indian Government orders, which have, in Twitter's view, sought to limit free speech and restrict discussion among users based solely on Government decree.
Back in February, the Indian Government threatened to punish Twitter if it refused to comply with Government requests to block accounts linked to protest action by local farmers, which had sparked significant unrest in the region. Twitter initially complied with the order, but then reversed its decision, citing its effort to protect free speech.
As Twitter explained at the time:
"Twitter exists to empower voices to be heard, and we continue to make improvements to our service so that everyone - no matter their views or perspective - feels safe participating in the public conversation."
In response, the Indian Government threatened to punish local Twitter employees with fines and jail time, which saw Twitter reluctantly moving to align with the Indian Government's ruling - but that incident sowed the first seeds to significant disagreement between the two sides, putting Twitter on a collision course with local authorities.
And worth noting - most of the accounts that the Indian Government had requested action against within this action had been critical of the country’s prime minister, Narendra Modi.
That formed the basis of Twitter's next confrontation with the Indian Government - in May Indian officials once again pressured Twitter to remove tweeted comments that criticized the Government's handling of the pandemic. Twitter, once again, refused, which set off the next effort by the Indian Government to make Twitter comply with its rules, or potentially face expulsion from the region.
Which, as noted, would be a disaster for Twitter's broader growth strategy. India is currently Twitter's third-largest usage region, with 18.8 million users, while it's also seen massive growth over the past year, with Indian usage rising some 74% during the pandemic.
Which, subsequently, is why the Indian Government has become increasingly concerned about the platform as a means of disseminating information - and with Twitter seeking to add 123 million more users over the next three years, any complications in India could totally derail those plans, and jeopardize the future of the platform as we know it.
That may seem overly dramatic, but the fact is that Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is under major pressure to improve the company's performance, and these ambitious growth targets are a key pillar within that approach.
Last year, an activist investor group sought to oust Dorsey as Twitter CEO after criticizing his leadership capacity, which it says has limited Twitter's evolution. That's why Twitter's suddenly changed its tune on innovation, and added a range of new features in quick succession, because part of the deal those investors made, which ensured Dorsey would remain in the top job, imposed tough new expectations and parameters on Twitter leadership. That includes a significant boost in user growth.
In essence, if Twitter doesn't see big usage growth, Dorsey, and likely various other Twitter executives, will be out, which will change the trajectory of the platform significantly.
As such, there's a lot at stake in this battle, which sees Twitter looking to stand firm on principle, while also keeping its business strategy in view.
It's a complex balance, that could have major implications, in various ways.
So while it may seem like a foreign dispute, with little impact on other elements outside of India, the fact is that this dispute has the potential to significantly alter Twitter's future plans.
Can Twitter continue to operate under more restrictive Indian laws, while also maintaining its freedom of speech ethos? It seems inevitable that more conflicts are coming on this front.