New Delhi: The Delhi High Court Monday pulled up Twitter for not voluntarily taking action against an account which allegedly published objectionable content about a Hindu Goddess, saying the US-based micro-blogging platform was not bothered about sensitivities of people from “other regions” and ethnicities.
Citing the permanent suspension of former US president Donald Trump’s account, the high court said Twitter’s stand that it “cannot block any individual” and cannot take action against alleged objectionable content in the absence of a court order is ”not entirely correct”.
A bench headed by Acting Chief Justice Vipin Sanghi, which was hearing a petition against the allegedly obnoxious posts on Maa Kali by user ‘AtheistRepublic’, directed Twitter to explain how it undertakes the blocking of accounts.
It noted that there were instances of certain individuals being blocked on the platform and remarked that had such an incident happened in relation to another religion, the social media platform would have been more careful and sensitive.
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“It is ultimately boiling down to this that people you feel sensitive about… the content, you will block them. You are not bothered about sensitivities of other people in other regions of the world, of ethnicities. ”We dare say that if these kinds of things were done in relation to another religion, you would be much more careful, more sensitive,” said the bench also comprising Justice Navin Chawla.
Senior advocate Sidharth Luthra, appearing for Twitter, said that it has removed the objectionable content in the present case and an FIR has been registered in relation to the posts.
He stated that Twitter “cannot block any individual” and cannot take action against allegedly objectionable content in the absence of a court order.
“If this is the logic then why have you blocked Mr (Donald) Trump?” the court questioned and added that prima facie Twitter’s stand that it cannot block account was “not entirely correct”.
Twitter had in January 2021 said that it has permanently suspended the then US President Donald Trump’s account citing ”the risk of further incitement of violence” after the storming of the US Capitol.
The high court stated that since Twitter did not object to the court’s earlier prime facie view in relation to the removal of the allegedly objectionable content in the present case, the social media platform should have taken action on its own when more offending material was pointed out.
“Since respondent number 3 (Twitter) has not questioned the prima facie view of the court with respect to the nature of the content, respondent number 3 should have on its own, without waiting for today’s hearing taken down the posts mentioned by the petitioner as early as on December 9, 2021,” the court said.
“We can take note of the fact that respondent no 3 has blocked the account of certain individuals from time to time. We direct respondent no 3 to place before the court the policy and under what circumstances it resorted to such action,” the court added as it noted the framework under the relevant Information Technology Rules for social media intermediaries.
Central government lawyer Harish Vaidyanathan said that there is a procedure in place for the blocking of Twitter accounts against whom complaints are received.
The court directed the Centre to examine the content in the present case and decide if action for blocking the account is called for under the Information Technology Act.
The court further directed Twitter, central government as well as AtheistRepublic to file their response to the petitioner and took on record the Twitter user’s undertaking that in the meantime, it would not post any similar offending material.
It also asked the account holder to place on record on an affidavit the details pertaining to its status, location, presence of any place of business and authorised representative in India.
Lawyer for AtheistRepublic said that its account cannot be blocked without being giving it an opportunity of being heard.
Petitioner Aditya Singh Deshwal said the Twitter user should be blocked for putting “ridiculous content against all religions” and being a habitual offender.
In October last year, the court had observed that Twitter shall respect sentiments of the general public as it was doing business for them and asked it to remove certain objectionable material relating to the Hindu Goddess from its platform.
The petitioner had claimed that Maa Kali was represented in a disgraceful and outrageous manner by AtheistRepublic and such content was in grave contravention of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 and non-compliance of the rules shall make Twitter lose its legal immunity provided under the Information Technology Act.
The matter would be heard next on September 6.