The Indian Information Technology Ministry recently unveiled new, stricter norms for social media platforms and digital streaming platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime. In its essence, the norms further strong-arm the Silicon-Valley-based 'big tech companies' to do its bidding, if they wish to have hassle-free operations in India.
These norms can be well-read as a dog-whistle, especially for the microblogging platform Twitter — a social media platform that is often at loggerheads with the incumbent government for a 'left-leaning bias' when it comes to its internal policies, especially ones which pertain to content moderation. The impasse with the government is so palpable — that everyone from the Prime Minister to provocateurs of the ruling party is openly promoting a rip-off of Twitter called 'Koo.'
Notwithstanding, the most contested and sensationalised offing from the big tech companies was the 'toolkit'— a word clamoured by mainstream media ad nauseum. Based on one’s political stance, it could be anything from a primer to the farmer agitation to a roadmap of destroying the Indian nation, a reincarnation of the 'tukde tukde' narrative.
Twitter’s recalcitrance towards not taking down tweets and accounts in support of the nationwide farmer agitation has put it at the cusp of finding a powerful enemy in the Indian government. It is noteworthy that Twitter had let incendiary tweets that culminated in the communal riots in the northern crevices of Delhi during Donald Trump’s visit. BJP leader Kapil Mishra — who has been accused of inciting violent clashes between Hindus and Muslims, has used the same social media platforms and the 'toolkit' to virtually manufacture an ecosystem of hate, as extensively reported by Newslaundry.
The glaring irony makes the motive of the ruling ideology conspicuous — if these platforms serve their interests, they do not come under scrutiny. Should they democratise the platform to voice the opinions and plights of the voiceless — which often leads to dissent against the ones in power, the law will coerce them into toeing the line.
Notwithstanding, India’s predicament is not an anomaly. Many countries are sceptical of the modus operandi of the tech titans. Australia recently enacted the new News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code, which requires Facebook and Google to pay local news outlets for including its publications on its feeds and search results. This move has been touted as the first major countermove by the state to curb the monopoly these companies have over communication and dissemination of information.
Irrespective of how convincing the narrative of Facebook sounds about self-regulation of its content to maintain a healthy space, reports of user data being leaked and its underhand arrangements with firms like Cambridge Analytica, mean governments are wary of the kind of influence it could have over its users, which can be akin to a sovereign state.
Yet one company in India that seems to be immune to such laws is Amazon. Reuters had exclusively reported on how Amazon has, over the years, circumvented corporate regulations which enterprises like itself must follow to do business in India. It also sheds light on the plight of small-scale sellers on Amazon — who allege that the company prefers sellers backed by them instead of a level-playing field — a stark contrast of Amazon’s narrative of 'ease-of-doing-business' for the common folk.
The ruling party going down hard on social media, as opined by Pratap Bhanu Mehta, could be a push for Atmanirbhar Bharat ('Self Reliant India') — a move it could not have imagined doing a few years ago, where the government would not even bat an eye, fearing it would earn the ire of Uncle Sam. However, the administration should come clean about its rationale of making Twitter bearing the brunt while Amazon enjoys the impunity to do crony capitalism and capitalistic surveillance to monopolise the Indian market.
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