The notice also demanded that Twitter revamp its policies concerning hateful content and enable a photo-shield feature like Facebook.
A legal notice was served to Twitter Inc via its Legal and Policy head Vijaya Gadde and senior counsel Chaitanya Ramachandran on Thursday by Advocate Anas Tanwir. The notice asks for a compensation of Rs 10 Lakhs to his client from Twitter for not taking action against content related to GitHub-made ‘Sulli Deals’ app being shared on the platform. The notice said that this resulted in his client facing rape threats, harassment, hateful conduct, and online sexual abuse on the micro-blogging platform.
Most notably, however, it claims that Twitter falls under the definition of ‘State’ as laid out by the Constitution due to Twitter’s claims that it provides users with a platform to exercise their fundamental rights. This could be indicative of future challenges levelled on platforms like Twitter. On July 6, the Indian government had submitted to the Delhi High Court that the platform had lost the aforementioned protection under Section 79 of the IT Act due to its non-compliance with the new IT rules. But, according to experts, the courts will ultimately decide on whether Twitter has lost its safe harbour protection.
The allegations against Twitter
- The legal notice lists several instances of abuse that the woman allegedly faced as a result of her photos being circulated through ‘Sulli deals’ and by other Twitter users who downloaded her photos from the platform and posted them with sexual and abusive text.
- It states that Twitter was allegedly ‘complicit in the trafficking of Muslim women that was advertised/publicised’ on its platform which, in turn, diverted traffic to the (Sulli-Deals) site. This, the notice states, is because its checks and measures allegedly failed to take down the content despite its claims to combat abuse that is motivated by hatred, prejudice, or intolerance, particularly abuse that seeks to silence voices of the historically marginalised.
- The notice further adds that the platform was allegedly an abettor of hate speech as it had not taken down similar hateful and derogatory content before, even after their client had reported them. Instead, Twitter marked it as ‘not in violation of community standards’ despite it clearly being otherwise as per its Hateful Conduct Policy. It also notes that Twitter’s inaction against such content has been a ‘uniform practice’.
- The platform allegedly lures users on to its platform by misrepresenting its safety mechanism for women.
- As per Article 12 of the Indian Constitution, the platform falls under the definition of ‘State’ and therefore, has a higher degree of responsibility in ensuring that its users’ fundamental rights are being upheld.
Actions demanded in the notice from Twitter
The notice further calls upon the platform to-
- Pay Rs 10 Lakh as compensation for the mental agony and fear caused to the victim
- Permanently remove the accounts mentioned as evidence in the notice such that they cannot join the platform again.
- Amend its policies such that it can deal with such ‘heinous’ and ‘extreme’ violations of its rules.
- Ensure inclusiveness of languages other than English, transliterations, and special characters so violating content therein can also be actioned against.
- Ensure that content uploaded by a user, such as a photo, cannot be downloaded by another user without their consent and there should be a photo-shield feature like the one on Facebook in order to ensure that no malicious content posted as a picture or meme goes unnoticed.
- Institute a dedicated committee to look into and take action against hate speech towards women, people of colour, LGBTQIA+ communities, and other historically underrepresented communities on a priority
- Ensure and create a mechanism that lets the platform take action against hateful content and sexual harassment as per Indian law beyond suspending the miscreant(s) account.
Multiple women harassed due to Sulli Deals
According to The Quint, the app presented photos of Muslim women and their Twitter handles when a user clicked to find the ‘Sulli deal of the day’. These, according to the victims, were taken off their Twitter accounts and shared without consent leading to rape threats, humiliation, and harassment.
July 6 – An FIR is filed with the Noida Police by a victim against unknown persons responsible for circulating her photo as well as those of several other Muslim women through the app.
July 7 – Swati Maliwal, the chairperson of the Delhi Commission for Women writes a letter to the Deputy Commissioner, Cyber Cell of the Delhi Police demanding information about action that had been taken on the matter.
July 8 – The National Commission of Women takes suo moto cognisance of the ‘Sulli deals’ controversy and issues a statement asking the Delhi Police to file FIRs in this regard and investigate the matter. It also asked the police to submit a ‘detailed action-taken report’ to them in 10 days.
Existing legal challenges for Twitter
The micro-blogging platform has been engaged in multiple court and legal battles since May 25 when the new IT rules came into force.
May 24- Delhi Police sends notice to Twitter asking it to share information that it had in this regard after the platform put a ‘Manipulated Media’ tag on several senior BJP leaders’ tweets.
May 28– Advocate Amit Acharya filed a petition in the Delhi High Court for Twitter’s non-compliance with the IT rules.
June 16– The Uttar Pradesh police lodged an FIR against Twitter and others in connection with tweets on an elderly man who was allegedly assaulted in Ghaziabad. The case is currently underway in the Karnataka High Court.
June 19– A case was filed by the Madhya Pradesh police against Twitter MD Manish Maheshwari over a map on Twitter’s website showing Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh as a separate country.
June 29– Delhi Police Cyber Cell files a case against Twitter on a complaint by NCPCR (National Commission For Protection of Child Rights). for child pornographic content on their platform.
Update: An earlier version of this article said that the notice was sent by the Indian Civil Liberties Union (ICLU), this has been changed to reflect Advocate Anas Tanwir who is also the founder of the ICLU. The error is regretted.
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