What If India Indeed Bans Twitter? 

What If India Indeed Bans Twitter? 

by Tushar Gupta - May 27, 2021 09:48 PM +05:30 IST
What If India Indeed Bans Twitter? Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. (Photo by Amal KS/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
  • Thus, the question arises; what if India indeed bans Twitter?

    What would be the consequences of banning an app with more than 17 million users?

    If India indeed bans Twitter, the former will only be home to more microblogging players, eager to penetrate and serve a market of a billion market users. Twitter, meanwhile, will have to find other markets to manipulate.

Through the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), the Government of India responded strongly to the claims made by Twitter in its press conference.

While asking for an extension of three months to comply with the guidelines, Twitter stated that it was worried about the safety of its employees and the potential threat to the freedom of the people it was serving.

Citing the factual inaccuracy of the press conference, MeitY pointed out that protecting free speech in India was not the moral and legal obligation of a for-profit, foreign entity alone but that of the government and its institutions.

Noting Twitter’s hypocrisy from the Red Fort violence to unchecked and rampant vaccine misinformation, the statement highlighted how Twitter was trying to dictate terms to the largest democracy in the world. The statement also included other instances where Twitter allowed maps that showed parts of Ladakh to be in China during the peak of the conflict.

Following the press conference, MeitY’s strongly-worded statement indicates that all options are on the table for the Narendra Modi government.

An immediate ban on the company’s operations in India, including its website and mobile applications, would be a bit of an exaggeration still. However, Twitter’s repeated attempt to demean the government, dodge the law of the land, and dismiss the legitimate concerns of selective censorship may warrant the discontinuation.

Thus, the question arises; what if India indeed bans Twitter?

The ban, the last resort for an otherwise liberal government, would follow Twitter burning the longest rope offered to it. It would result from Twitter repeatedly refusing to comply with the guidelines and continuing on its spree of selective censorship and suspension of Twitter accounts.

What would be the consequences of banning an app with more than 17 million users?

The first shockwaves may come on the diplomatic front. For the Indian government, to ban an American company originating from Silicon Valley, which is the hub of Indian-Americans and countless H1B visa holders, would invite diplomatic pressure, one can assume.

However, when it comes to Twitter alone, the polity in America is severely divided, given it was the same platform that suspended President Donald Trump before he left the White House. Even Democrats have recently voiced their reservations against the Big Tech.

In the United States, Congressional Democrats have already begun discussions within the White House to find ways to hold social media platforms accountable for the spread of disinformation and the content posted along with issues of market monopoly.

Turns out, President Joe Biden, last year during his campaign, had called for revoking Section 230 that shields social media companies from being held accountable for the content posted on their platforms in the US.

Several other countries, in the past, have also voiced their concerns about selective censorship.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel had reacted strongly to the suspension of Trump’s Twitter account, stating that the laws governing free speech should be made by the legislators and not the Big Tech. Even the European Union is strongly considering regulation to break up the Big Tech companies if they fail to comply with rules of the land.

Thus, while the immediate diplomatic aftermath may require some firefighting, there is little doubt that the biggest democracies and markets of the world are now up against the arbitrary high-handedness of Big Tech.

In case of a complete ban, the government will only reiterate a point most lawmakers and legislators across the world have been highlighting- that the law of the land supersedes the rules and policies of any private entity. For all we know, India may create a precedent for the future. A harsh lesson, as some may say, but an important one, nevertheless.

The second challenge will be from an investor point of view. How do you sell India as the largest market globally, or the idea of ease of doing business, or an investment hub, while the government goes ahead and blocks a foreign, for-profit, private entity with significant revenue and a customer base of 17 million people?

Turns out, India, in the last year, has taken two big decisions on this front. Firstly, TikTok was banned for reasons of data protection and privacy. The platform, home to more than 120 million users from India alone, was shown the door, along with PUBG, another viral gaming service.

Recently, Huawei was not allowed to participate in the 5G trials being conducted. Given the scale of both Huawei and TikTok, Twitter stands nowhere close. A majority of India’s 4G telecom network was built using Huawei, and TikTok had its advertising ecosystem. Yet, the government did not shy away from taking a hard stance against both when needed.

There is also the market size that one must factor in. India is the world’s largest market, one that no company would like to miss out on. Huawei’s ban has not resulted in Ericson or Samsung being sceptical about investing in India, nor did the TikTok ban result in Facebook scaling down their operations. If one player leaves, hundreds of big and small players are willing to take up that space.

There are also political challenges that shall follow the ban. While the opposition parties will milk it for all its worth, the momentum against the ban may not sustain for too long, given Twitter is a relatively unknown social media platform outside a few urban pockets.

It won't be an exaggeration to assume that ban on Twitter would be relatively forgotten by the next big elections, as the ban on TikTok is forgotten today.

The ban on Twitter will not be the end of social media in India, by no means. Already, many indigenous platforms are already in the making, and as the TikTok ban showed last year, embracing a new platform with similar functionalities is not a challenge for many.

Having said that, a ban on Twitter will be global news and a subject of discussion for months.

Therefore, if it comes to banning the platform, there would be an electoral challenge for the government defending its stance on other social media platforms, especially Instagram, where the government is accused of having a weak presence. The ban will have to be complemented with constant and clear communication from the government.

If India indeed bans Twitter, the former will only be home to more microblogging players, eager to penetrate and serve a market of a billion market users. Twitter, meanwhile, will have to find other markets to manipulate.

For arbitrary wokeness, Jack Dorsey is risking a lot.

Tushar is a senior-sub-editor at Swarajya. He tweets at @Tushar15_
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