The Hindu, November 19, 2020
The Joint Parliamentary Committee on Data Protection Bill questioned representatives of social media giant Twitter on the “selective removal and suspension of accounts”, specifically giving the example of standup comic Kunal Kamra’s recent tweets attacking the Supreme Court for granting TV anchor Arnab Goswami reprieve after his arrest in an abetment to suicide case.
The panel had asked Twitter to explain their policy regarding suspension of accounts and removing “offensive” tweets. The Twitter representatives were called in on Thursday, after the panel found that their written response was inadequate.
Speaking to The Hindu, committee Chairperson Meenakshi Lekhi said, “Twitter, in their written response, claimed that they do not promote obscenity and profanity. We showed them Mr. Kamra’s tweets and asked them how exactly are these tweets still running.” She said that Mr. Kamra’s tweets show disrespect to the Constitutional head of the justice system of the country.
Among other questions, Twitter was also asked if it was because of the algorithm or manual intervention that some “content” got promoted over others.
According to sources, members across party lines questioned Twitter representatives. Congress MP Vivek Tankha, BJD MP Bhartruhari Mahtab, BSP MP Ritesh Pandey and Chairperson Ms. Lekhi led the questioning. “We are not against freedom of expression. But how can Twitter allow obscenity on its platform, especially when it is targeted towards a constitutional authority,” one of the members said.
Last week, the panel had pulled up Twitter for geo-tagging Ladakh as a part of China. Twitter’s chief privacy officer Damien Kieran had sent an apology to the panel and assured that the mistake would be corrected by November 30.
Tharoor raises query
Meanwhile, Standing Committee Chairman for Information and Technology, Shashi Tharoor has questioned the mandate of the Joint Committee which has been formed exclusively to deal with the Data Protection Bill to take up these issues. In a tweet, Mr. Tharoor said, “Dear @M_Lekhi, as far as I am aware your Committee was formed for consultations on the Data Protection Bill & its mandate is to report on the statutory provisions continued in the draft Bill. Could you clarify if you have taken on additional responsibilities & on whose authority?”
Mr. Tharoor was supported by Senior Congress leader and member of the committee Jairam Ramesh, who tweeted, “I could not attend the meeting today, but had I been there I would have raised this very issue.”
Ms. Lekhi, in response to Mr Tharoor’s comment, said, “I expected better understanding of law and jurisdictional issues from someone who is heading the standing committee on Information Technology. And I am not going to run Law tutorials, especially when a senior lawyer like Mr. Tankha from his party has already concurred with me.”
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