On Tuesday, 5 July, news broke that Twitter has moved the Karnataka High Court to challenge the government orders to take down content.
The lawsuit, which alleges abuse of power by officials, appears to be in direct response to a notice sent by the information technology ministry warning Twitter to comply with orders or face criminal proceedings.
This tension between the Union government and the social media platform hasn't appeared all of a sudden, it has been brewing for well over a year, with the government issuing an ever increasing number of takedown orders.
Here's a timeline of the tussle between Twitter and India's government.
On 26 January 2021, clashes broke out between protesting farmers and police in different areas of Delhi. This was followed by a flood of tweets and social media posts calling for violence against the Sikh community.
Twitter, at the time, told The Quint that it had "taken strong enforcement action" and "suspended more than 500 accounts engaged in spam and platform manipulation."
On 1 February, the government directed Twitter to block over 250 Twitter accounts that were covering the farmer protests and were critical of how the government had handled the situation.
Twitter briefly obliged, but later restored most of the accounts citing "insufficient justification." These included the accounts of The Caravan, the Kisan Ekta Morcha, Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Md Salim, and several farmer leaders.
Over the next two days, the IT Ministry issued two notices warning the platform that it would face legal consequences for not complying with the takedown orders issued under the IT Act.
On 4 February, Twitter said it was examining another government order to ban 1,178 accounts for allegedly threatening public order amid the national outrage against the farm bills.
The same day the platform deleted two tweets by actor Kangana Ranaut (known to be supportive of the Bharatiya Janata Party regime) for allegedly inciting violence and referring to farmers as terrorists.
Around this time, many Union ministers, government functionaries, and BJP leaders began migrating to the home-grown microblogging platform ‘Koo.’ The government even expressed its displeasure in a meeting with Twitter executives.
The then Union Electronics & IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad even made a statement in the Rajya Sabha warning Twitter that "if social media is misused to spread fake news and violence, then action will be taken."
On 21 May, Twitter labelled BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra’s tweet on a “Congress toolkit” intended to use the COVID-19 crisis to attack the BJP government as “manipulated media” after it was found that the document was created on a fake letterhead.
The same label was applied to other party members who shared the document.
Three days later, Delhi Police personnel visited Twitter's offices in Delhi to serve a notice to the company seeking clarification regarding the label. The company called this an "intimidation" tactic and expressed concern over the threat to freedom of expression.
Twitter on 5 June removed the blue tick badge from the personal handle of Vice President Venkaiah Naidu, before restoring it. The tick was likely removed due to the fact that the account had been inactive since July 2020.
However, the move was criticised as anti-government bias.
Later in June, Twitter found itself in the spotlight yet again when it temporarily blocked then IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad's account for alleged violation of the United States Copyright Act.
Prasad alleged that Twitter’s actions were in gross violation of Information Technology Rules 2021 “where they failed to provide me any prior notice before denying me access to my own account.”
In July, Twitter got in trouble for flouting the new IT rules on four counts:
No chief compliance officer had been appointed
The position of the resident grievance officer was vacant
The position of the nodal contact person (even on an interim basis) was vacant
The physical contact address was not available on Twitter's website.
The Union government on 5 July told the Delhi High Court that Twitter has failed to comply with IT Rules 2021 as on 1 July, leading to a loss of its immunity as an "intermediary."
On 10 August, tensions eased between the government and Twitter. The Centre told the Delhi High Court that the company is now complying with India’s new IT rules.
On 2 February, Reuters reported that Indian officials held heated discussions with Google, Twitter, and Facebook for not being proactive enough in removing 'fake news' on their platforms.
The officials said the companies' inaction was forcing the Indian government to order content takedowns, drawing international criticism, sources told the agency.
In April Elon Musk struck a deal to buy Twitter for $44 billion, prompting a cautionary response from the Indian government.
“I wish Elon Musk the very best. Our goals and expectations of accountability and safety and trust of all intermediaries operating in India remains unchanged,” Union minister for IT Rajeev Chandrasekhar told The Times of India.
On 24 June, Twitter, at the request of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, withheld the account of C J Werleman, a journalist who writes on Islamophobia and other issues regarding the Muslim communities.
A few days later Twitter in India banned the handles of Pakistan embassies in the United Nations (UN), Turkey, Iran, and Egypt. The official account of Radio Pakistan, the national public broadcaster of Pakistan, was also banned by Twitter India.
Twitter documents uploaded to the Lumen database in June showed that the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) asked the platform to remove around 85 Twitter accounts and tweets in late 2021.
Some of these belonged to farmer activists, foreign news outlets, journalists, and members of Opposition.
Twitter complied only partially and was sent multiple warnings by the IT ministry in June.
After being given “one last opportunity” to adhere to the IT Rules Twitter finally caved in July and reportedly complied with the orders to avoid losing its immunity as a social media intermediary.
The platform has also filed a case challenging Indian government orders to take down content, a source familiar with the matter told news agency Reuters. The lawsuit reportedly alleges abuse of power by officials.
After news of the lawsuit broke, Minister of State Rajeev Chandrasekhar tweeted that all foreign platforms were subject to Indian laws.
(With inputs from Reuters, The Times of India, and BBC.)