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Why Vinay Prakash is an interesting choice for Twitter India’s new interim grievance officer

The new appointment comes amidst escalations such as cases being filed against Twitter’s MD and the government saying that the platform has lost its intermediary liability protections. 

Twitter’s new interim grievance officer for India studied Diplomacy and South Asian Security at King’s College London. He has worked in roles that involved human rights and liaising with United Nations member states. But perhaps most importantly, he has worked as an analyst for Rajeev Chandrasekhar, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP who was recently appointed as a Minister of State (MoS) in the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology (MEITY). These experiences perhaps explain his appointment: Twitter has been belligerent in a months-long conflict with MEITY, and by extension, the Indian government; most recently that dispute has revolved around Prakash’s new position remaining vacant. Twitter declined to comment on a query about the appointment by MediaNama.

Nitthin Chandran, CEO of MedPiper, the Bangalore-based startup where Prakash worked in a policy role until this appointment, confirmed Prakash’s move to Twitter. “Vinay’s been in this space. Prior to this, he was in Quick Ride, which is in the mobility space. He’s been helpful, and had an eye for looking out and navigating around issues that would come up,” Chandran told MediaNama.

Twitter is still headhunting for a permanent candidate for this role, but Prakash’s appointment is one of two important steps taken to de-escalate matters with the government. The other step over the weekend was the publication of the company’s first compliance report under the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, the law that required this appointment. The government has said to the media and to the judiciary that, in its opinion, Twitter has lost intermediary liability protections due to its non-compliance with the IT Rules, essentially rendering Twitter vulnerable to legal action for posts by users.

What the IT Rules require of Twitter: The IT Rules require that significant social media intermediaries (defined as those having over 5 million users) such as Twitter appoint a resident grievance officer, a nodal officer, and a chief compliance officer. In addition, they’re required to act on complaints within 36 hours,

To some extent, these steps have borne fruit. The former IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, who presided over most of the conflict between the company and the government, said on Monday that it was “assuring” that Twitter had moved to comply with the Rules with the appointment and the report. The recently-appointed IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw has not commented on the Twitter situation beforehand, and only said (after taking his oath as a minister) that Twitter would have to follow the law. On Monday morning, MEITY refused to share written reminders it had sent to Twitter to comply with the IT Act, arguing that the communications had a fiduciary element — this is in contrast to past practice, where it has made communications with tech companies available in response to RTI applications that have been filed.

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Missteps and escalation

Twitter has been locked in a confrontation with the government that is reminiscent of two nations with strained relations.

  • February 2, 2021: Twitter is sent a request to block several handles on its platform, including those belonging to activists, media organisations, and journalists. The company briefly complies and then reverses course.
  • February 8, 2021: Twitter is sent another notice to block more accounts related to the ongoing farmer protests. The company does not comply fully and cites freedom of expression in a post where it says it did not restrict access to accounts of journalists and activists. After meeting US-based executives, the government issues a press release saying that the company would have to comply with the law but backs down from its demand that the company remove all the flagged content. Twitter’s top policy executive in India, Mahima Kaul, announces her imminent departure. Days later, then-IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad indirectly accuses Twitter of resisting attempts to investigate violence at the Red Fort during the protests.
  • February 25, 2021: The government notifies the IT Rules, requiring significant social media intermediaries like Twitter to employ resident compliance, grievance redressal, and nodal officers.
  • March 8, 2021: Twitter puts out a job listing for one of the roles, the law enforcement liaison.
  • April 24, 2021: Several major accounts’ tweets criticising the government’s handling of the pandemic are restricted in India following a demand by MEITY, a story that is picked up internationally after being broken by MediaNama. The story, which was based on public filings by Twitter that other social media companies generally don’t make, was an embarrassing blow for the government.
  • May 21, 2021: Twitter adds a “manipulated content” tag to tweets by BJP leaders who posted screenshots of a purported internal document from the Indian National Congress that suggested that party workers call the Delta variant of the COVID-19 coronavirus the “Modi variant”. The government demands that Twitter remove this tag.
  • May 27, 2021: Delhi Police visits an empty Twitter office, alarming the social media company’s top executives. The company puts out a statement calling the visit an “intimidation” tactic and voices concern for the safety of its employees. The Delhi Police (and its parent organisation, the central government) condemn the statement.
  • May 28, 2021: As Twitter’s compliance with the IT Rules lags, advocate Amit Acharya files a lawsuit in the Delhi High Court, demanding that the company comply with the law. Shortly thereafter, the law firm representing India deputes a partner-designate, Dharmendra Chatur, as an “interim” grievance officer. The Delhi High Court bristles at the interim nature of the appointment, accusing the company of misleading it on the nature of the appointment; this comes after Chatur withdraws from the role.
  • June 2021: A complaint is filed against Manish Maheshwari, Twitter India Managing Director, for tweets posted on the platform. The Uttar Pradesh police summons Maheshwari for questioning and refuses an offer to conduct the questioning over videoconferencing. Maheshwari’s counsel accuses the police in the Karnataka High Court of having an agenda. The judgement in the case will be pronounced on July 13.
  • July 6, 2021: The government, echoing a stance it leaked to the press, makes it official: in its assessment, Twitter is no longer covered under intermediary liability protections, rendering it directly liable for posts by users. The Delhi High Court concurs. The company assures the court that its appointment was only ‘interim’ for tax and finance reasons and that it would “endeavour” to appoint a new grievance officer immediately, and a permanent candidate in a couple months’ time. It also hires a Chief Compliance Officer.
  • July 11, 2021: Twitter hires Vinay Prakash as Chief Grievance Officer.

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I cover the digital content ecosystem and telecom for MediaNama.

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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