Twitter’s legal team on Wednesday night sent multiple users emails that said they had received complaints that some tweets critical of Byju’s violated Indian laws. MediaNama reviewed four of the emails to users, which cited tweets over the past few months that included off-the-cuff comments on its business and an allegation that it was promoting “fake news”. Separately, LinkedIn permanently banned Dr. Aniruddha Malpani, an angel investor who has been a vocal critic of the ed-tech company. Byju’s confirmed that it reported Malpani’s tweets to LinkedIn.
Byjus Chief Operating Officer Mrinal Mohit denied to MediaNama that the company had reported tweets critical of it, or that they sent legal notices to Twitter to get them taken down; our interaction with him is below. In a statement that it shared separately, a Byju’s spokesperson had this to say:
Twitter allows users to report inaccurate, misleading, sensitive or inappropriate information. BYJU’S had exercised this option against information spread related to the company that was wrong or misrepresentative in nature. BYJU’S had reported a few tweets which were spreading inaccurate information that can be sensitive to different religious communities. As a transparent and proud company that is committed to transform the way students learn globally, we are focused to providing world-class content and stand against false information that hurts anyone without reason.
Twitter declined to comment.
“As Twitter strongly believes in defending and respecting the voice of our users, it is our policy to notify our users if we receive a legal request from an authorized entity (such as attorneys or legal representatives) to remove content from their account,” Twitter wrote to users whose accounts were reported. In 2017, Twitter, among other platforms, was ordered by the Delhi High Court to remove tweets that PepsiCo alleged contained misinformation that Kurkure corn puffs had plastic in them. The list of posts, prepared by PepsiCo, included jokes and other posts that were not directly related to the claim.
Mohit told us that the company only reported tweets that were related to posts by Jonathan Crabtree, an Australian mathematician who has been accusing the company of promoting “Islamic maths instead of Hindu maths”. Mohit added that Byju’s believed Crabtree was part of a paid campaign against the company.
Crabtree told MediaNama that he took down the tweets that Twitter cited himself. “As I have gifted my life’s work to India I had no intention of breaking Narendra Modi’s social media laws,” he said. “It shocked me when I found out Byju gave credit to Islamic mathematicians when their confusion lingers in today’s classrooms.”
LinkedIn takes down account for “defamatory” comments on Byju’s
On Monday, LinkedIn took down angel investor Dr. Aniruddha Malpani’s account over posts he has made about Byju’s, which Entrackr first reported. Malpani has been a vocal critic of the company, and LinkedIn cited 35 of his posts in an email sent to him justifying his permanent ban. Byju’s told us that it had engaged with Malpani’s criticism in the past, but reported some of his recent posts for inaccurate claims, and said that it did not expect nor ask LinkedIn to permanently ban his account.
We have reached out to Facebook and YouTube to ask if they had also received and/or acted on such requests from Byju’s.
Byju’s COO: Did not report comments on our business
Here’s our conversation with Byju’s COO Mrinal Mohit, edited for clarity.
MediaNama: Did Byju’s send legal notices to Twitter to have posts criticising it removed?
We don’t send any legal notices to any of these platforms. What has happened is, we realized that around two weeks back, there is a handle called @jcrabtree [Jonathan Crabtree]. They have been trying to propagate fake news. Not just fake news, they’re trying to portray that we are using Islamic money and anti-Hindu sentiment. That’s a lie.
[Crabtree accused us of saying things like] Hindus did not build maths, Islamic people did, [and that] Byju’s takes money from Islamic world… These are all lies. We have reported these links to Twitter. We just reported it using in-built tools and sent a mail to the normal email ID on Twitter [email@example.com]. We said this narrative is dangerous. [Some tweets said that] you are using a hero like Shah Rukh Khan [a Byju’s brand ambassador] to promote Islamic agenda. This is really rubbish. Only against this we have used the Twitter inbuilt tools plus a list of links emailed to them.
Other users might have retweeted that. Those users may have been reported. As one person pointed out, [the emails sent to users] are not legal notices from Twitter, but an email that someone has reported their tweet.
We have only reported the @jcrabtree tweets. Anybody can report a tweet. You can also report a tweet. As such, we have only reported @jcrabtree’s post, which should be reported.
Others we don’t know. That’s not our policy to do that [get criticism removed].
MediaNama: Earlier this week, Dr. Aniruddha Malpani’s LinkedIn account was banned. Did you report his posts in that case?
That was also a simple reporting of an issue. Mr. Malpani has been writing against us for over a year, and we have been perfectly fine with it. We have been engaging with him, reached out to him… He had put a list of complaints, and we addressed it to the media.
Three weeks back, in the span of 6 days, he did 32 posts. Every two hours, there is a post, which I’m perfectly fine with. In some of those posts, he was completely wrong. Everyone has a right to opinion, but it’s a wrong post. He said that Byjus hired sales guys from low income families, Byjus sales guys don’t know how to speak English… There were four five posts which were wrong. We have gone ahead and reported those posts to LinkedIn. His account was also suspended for some other reason in May.
I don’t think a company can request deactivation for an account on LinkedIn. It was a surprise for us also.
Someone in the company or other person could have also reported.
MediaNama: Have you reported such posts on platforms other than LinkedIn and Twitter?
These posts have only come on LinkedIn and Twitter. In Mr. Malpani’s case, we reported the posts that were wrong. It’s almost calling our sales guys names. As a company I can only do that much, I can only report.
On Twitter, the @jcrabtree thing started two weeks back. It looks like a paid campaign. I don’t know who is doing it, but it’s a paid campaign. Those are ridiculous posts. When he started putting a religious angle to it, we thought we should report it.
MediaNama: There have been other posts that received such notices, from Twitter’s legal team, for posts that criticise Byjus’s business. For example, Kaipullai asks how Byju’s is valued higher than Colgate when it has a bigger loss and a smaller annual turnover. Were you behind that?
We have not reported that tweet. Reporting, anybody can report. There has been no legal notice put for these persons.
MediaNama: Byju’s has hired Aiplex to file copyright claims for digital rights management. Is Aiplex also authorised to act against non-copyright-related posts?
They can only report. They don’t have mandate to send legal notices on these things. They can report to Twitter.
Aiplex is more into copyrighted material. Non-copyright-related, no. They might have reported @jcrabtree. Reporting can be done by anybody.
MediaNama: Does Byju’s believe that posts criticising its business, or commenting on its business model, should be taken down, like the ones that were reported this week? One user tweeted about a transactional dispute where they demanded a refund for a payment, and their tweet was also reported.
Not at all. This is wrong, and I am sure we would not have done that. The transactional thing doesn’t make sense. That would be too much.
There is no legal notice sent by us. We have only used the publicly available Twitter tools, or email IDs to report links.
Note by MediaNama: Reports against posts that use Twitter’s own tools generally result in emails from Twitter’s support team, but the emails we reviewed were all sent by the company’s legal team. The in-built Twitter reporting tool does not include an option for country-specific legal violations.