This article is written by Sharad Yadav from the Institute of Law, Nirma University. This article will help you to understand under what conditions twitter can block your account and under what condition the government can ask Twitter to take down the content or directly suspend the account.
In the present scenario as we know that most people use Twitter as a medium to share information with other people. Almost all the big politicians, celebrities, companies, government organizations use the Twitter platform to disseminate their information quickly to another person. Nowadays twitter platform is playing an important role in society. Such that one tweet by a big personality can lead to violence.
Common reasons for the suspension of an account
Most Twitter accounts get suspended because of being spam or fake. Spam accounts create security risks for the user as well as the company.
Hacked or Compromise
Twitter suspends the user’s account if he thinks that account is being hacked or compromised then Twitter may suspend that account until it can be secured or restored to the original user of the account. This is done to reduce the potentially malicious activity carried out by another person.
Abusive behaviour or tweets
Twitter generally suspends the account if it gets information that a particular user is violating its rules surrounding abuse. If an account engages in abusive behaviour like sending threats to another user then, in that case, Twitter may suspend it temporarily in some serious cases permanently as well.
Different levels of enforcement by Twitter
When someone tweets something there are some levels set by the company to ensure that people are not tweeting something wrong or something in violation of the rules. Different levels of action that twitter may take are given below:
Labelling a Tweet
If Twitter finds a tweet that contains misleading/ disputed information as there are policies that could lead to harm to the general public then Twitter may add a label to the content to provide context and additional information relating to the tweet.
Limiting tweet visibility
Twitter makes the content less visible on Twitter while doing the search or replies, and on timelines. Limiting tweet visibility basically depends on a number of signals about the nature of the interaction with the public and the type of content of the tweet.
Requiring tweet removal
If Twitter sees anything tweeted on its platform which violated the Twitter Rules, it requires that the violator remove that tweet before they can tweet again. Twitter sends an email to the user’s email id identifying the tweet(s) and state that the tweet is in violation of the policies and they need to remove the tweet or review the tweet in case of an error committed by them
Emergency disclosure of information
As per the policy of Twitter, it can disclose the information to law enforcement in case there is a valid emergency disclosure request that comes to it. It evaluates the emergency disclosure request on a case-to-case basis in compliance with the relevant law that is applicable to it. Twitter says that if a law enforcement agency asks for the information in good faith that there is an exigent emergency involved such as the danger of death or serious harm to a person that he may provide information for preventing the same.
Hiding of tweets while awaiting its removal
In the meantime, when Twitter takes any action and that person removes the tweet, it has basically hidden that tweet from public view, and people will not be able to see the tweet and will replace the original tweet with a small notice mentioning that the tweet is no longer available to view because it violated the Twitter rules. Also, this notice will be available for 14 days after which the tweet is removed.
Permanent suspension of an account
According to Twitter policy, it has the power to permanently suspend any account. It is the most severe enforcement action because the user will not have the option to activate its account again. Permanent suspension means that person will not be able to create a new account. It means he/she can not again come to the platform by forming a new account if an account is permanently suspended by Twitter. Twitter informs the user that the account is permanently suspended and also explains the policies which they violated due to which the account gets suspended. If a person’s Twitter account is permanently suspended by the company then he has the option to appeal against the permanent suspension if he believes that they made an error. The aggrieved person can file an appeal through platform interference or by filling a report on Twitter.
President Trump’s account suspension
Twitter permanently banned President Trump’s account back in January 2021. Services were stopped on Trump’s account due to the risk of incitement of violence. Twitter said that Mr. Trump’s personal account with the [email protected], which had more than 88 million followers, would be shut down immediately. Twitter said that Mr. Trump’s two tweets, one which was related to calling his supporters “patriots” and the second saying he would not be going to the presidential inauguration on January 20 violate the Twitter rule against glorifying violence.
Mr. Trump tried to avoid this situation by using the @POTUS account which actually belongs to the sitting president but all of his messages were removed by the company because the company forbids users to try avoiding a suspension with secondary accounts.
Account suspension of Indian actress
In May 2021, a famous Indian actress named Kangana Ranaut’s Twitter account was also permanently suspended by Twitter for repeated violation of Twitter rules. Twitter blocked the account after the actor’s vitriolic comment on the post-poll violence which happened in West Bengal, which sounded like a call to violence. The Twitter spokesperson said” Kangana’s account has been suspended for repeated violations. We always take very strong actions on behavior that has the ability to do harm offline. He said that the referred account has been permanently suspended for repeated violations of the rules specific to the Twitter rule of “hateful conduct policy and abusive behaviour policy”.
Laws in the United States of America
Communication Decency Act which was passed in the year 1996 to which Section 230 provides legal immunity to the big internet companies for content that is shared on their websites. This Act was introduced to regulate pornography online. Section 230 is basically an amendment to the Act which holds the users responsible for any post or comment online.
According to the Section, “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” It means that online companies including social media platforms will not be held liable for the content shared by the users on their website. If anybody posts something illegal then in that scenario, the company will not be held liable for the actions of the user. This also stated that the companies have a right to remove the content which violated their guidelines and values. When Twitter suspended Donald Trump’s account then they were protected under this rule.
Criticism of Section 230
Many political leaders and internet activists often criticize Section 230 and call for the law to be updated. Republican lawmakers including Donald Trump have alleged that the platforms like Twitter and Facebook clearly show bias against conservative voices and heavily criticized Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act, which was mainly brought to censor right-leaning users.
In the year 2020, President Donald Trump released an order that basically targeted the protection which is offered to big tech companies under Section 230. Trump ordered the regulators to reassess the definition of Section 230 and directed agencies to collect complainants of political bias on social media platforms that could help in revoking their legal immunity but after Biden’s victory in the 2020 election, he put his foot forward and called for the regulation to be completely revoked.
Laws relating to the guidelines issued by the Government of India
Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000
The power of government to issue certain directions for blocking of any information
- According to this Section, if the Indian Government or any of its officers which are authorized by it on this behalf is satisfied that it is necessary to block the content in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of the country, defence of India, security of the State, to keep good relation with other states
- For preventing the incitement of the cognizable offence relating to the above, can direct any agency of the Government or intermediary such as Google Facebook, Twitter, Instagram to block access of the content the public or cause to be blocked for access by the people any information which is generated, transmitted, received, stored in any computer resource throughout in the country
- The procedure of blocking or stopping the access of the content by the public may be carried out shall be such as may be prescribed in the procedure.
- The intermediary company who failed to comply with the direction of the notice under subsection (1) shall be punished with imprisonment for a term that may extend to seven years and be liable to be fined.
Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 gives power to the government to issue directions to block public access to any information which a user can access through the computer. This comes with a confidentiality requirement which means when Twitter blocks any account on the request of the government under this Section then we cannot know the reason for blocking the account and by whom it was directed. Section 69A enables secret censorship by the executive branch of the government without any independent judicial oversight. The process to block content under Section 69A is all civil service controlled with no role of an independent person to review.
Constitutional validity of Section 69A
In the landmark case, Shreya Singhal v. Union of India (2015) few sections of the IT Act were challenged before the court of law. The highest court of our country “the Supreme court” nullified Section 66A of the IT Act, 2000 in which online offensive comments were made a crime and punishable by jail. The court struck down the Section on the very strong ground that it is detrimental to our freedom of speech and expression online. While hearing the case, Section 69A was also under controversy but the court was of the opinion that this Section 69A was quite narrow and various safeguards were to be followed before blocking online content. The court said that a blocking order can only be passed in the situation when the committee is fully satisfied with the blocking of content and has the adequate and genuine reason to do so.
The bench which was hearing the case said when the committee finds that there is a genuine necessity to block the content then only a blocking order is made. However, under this intermediary, there is also a sufficient and reasonable amount of time for his actions and also such a blocking falls within the area of reasonable restrictions on the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression which is given under Article 19 of the Constitution of India. Thereafter the court declared that Section 69A be constitutionally valid and all the writ remedies which were made available for any infringement on this shall take place concerning the procedure which is supposed to be followed.
Twitter is playing a very crucial role in our society for maintaining the freedom of speech and expression. Twitter has a very strict policy related to the permanent suspension of the account. As we know it plays a crucial role in disseminating information. Twitter needs to maintain the freedom of speech and expression of the people and ban only those accounts at the request of the government which they really think incites violence and violates any rules. The politically motivated request should be avoided by the twitter
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