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In India, Facebook and Twitter walk censorship tightrope with government

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When Facebook and Twitter sought to limit the extent to which their platforms could be used to spread disinformation related to last year’s presidential election, Amal Chandra, a 22-year-old university student in Kerala, India, applauded their efforts.

Now, Chandra, who studies political science at Pondicherry University, is wondering why the same companies are complying with demands by the Indian government to remove social media posts critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“During the U.S. presidential election, we saw a fair, neutral, objective position from the side of social media,” Chandra said in an interview. “So why can’t they do the same in India?”

In recent days, the social media giants removed about 100 posts in India following an emergency order by Modi’s government at a time when the prime minister, previously criticized for downplaying the severity of the pandemic, is faced with a surge of hundreds of thousands of positive coronavirus cases to which the government has been slow to respond.

Then, last Thursday, Facebook temporarily hid posts containing the hashtag #ResignModi. The company said it had done so by “mistake” and “not because the Indian government asked us to,” and said the posts were restored to the platform.

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The government said the originally removed posts threatened public safety, undermined the government’s efforts to fight the pandemic, or sought to spread misleading information. Individuals who have used social media to seek medical help and supplies have also been persecuted, according to reports.

But those critical of Modi, who leads the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, say the order was designed to silence free speech and political dissent. Chandra, who describes himself as a center-left liberal, was disappointed when the companies complied with the order.

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“In every country, they should be respectful of democracy and dissent and they should not succumb to the anti-democratic directions of the government,” he said. “We have a constitution which guarantees the right to free expression and reasonable criticism, so why should Twitter or Facebook succumb to the government’s pressure?”

[Social media algorithms threaten democracy, experts tell senators]

Beyond its explanation for the temporary removal of #ResignModi posts, Facebook declined to comment on the removal of posts at the government’s behest. In a statement, a spokesperson for Twitter said the removals from its platform were in accordance with Indian law.

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“When we receive a valid legal request, we review it under both the Twitter Rules and local law. If the content violates Twitter’s rules, the content will be removed from the service,” the spokesperson said. “If it is determined to be illegal in a particular jurisdiction, but not in violation of the Twitter rules, we may withhold access to the content in India only.”

Some advocates have slammed the companies for complying with the order, citing Facebook’s partnership with the Global Network Initiative, a coalition that seeks to limit online censorship by autocratic governments, and Twitter’s stated mission to “serve the public conversation.”

“Facebook, Twitter, and other technology companies have a responsibility to respect human rights, including right to free speech,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch, in an email interview. “Online censorship can have a debilitating effect on dissent. It is important for companies to protect the human rights of their users and not censor information in violation of international standards.”

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Despite the Indian government’s order, the companies “should interpret and implement legal demands as narrowly as possible, to ensure the least possible restriction on expression, notify users, seek clarification or modification from authorities, and explore all legal options for challenge,” Ganguly said.

But the choice by social media companies facing government demands isn’t only a moral one but a business decision, too. India has more than 755 million internet users — second in the world only to China — making it an attractive market for U.S. companies. Modi’s use of the country’s digital regulation laws places the companies in an unenviable position.

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“Even if you don’t agree, you will have to comply if you want to operate in India,” said Rohin Garg, associate policy counsel at the Internet Freedom Foundation, a New Delhi-based nonprofit organization. “Facebook is a large company. If they have to optimize between revenue and free speech, we know which way it’s going to go.”

Garg said that in theory, it is a good thing that international companies are subject to the laws in each jurisdiction where they operate.

“But because the government is able to bend the rules without including accountability or transparency measures in their legislation, they can take advantage of that and do what they want,” he said.

India’s current digital regulations, established in 2000, were amended by the Modi administration earlier this year amid massive protests by farmers. The regulations gave the government more power over large online companies, including the authority to demand the removal of content threatening to “the sovereignty and integrity of India.”

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Around the same time, the government threatened to imprison India-based Twitter employees if the company did not block accounts related to the protests; Twitter did so, but left intact accounts belonging to officials, journalists and activists.

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Critics of the regulations say they could deepen India’s democratic backsliding under Modi.

Garg says the ideal solution would include greater accountability and transparency for both the government and social media companies.

“So the private sector can’t do what it wants willy-nilly, and the government can’t do what it wants willy-nilly, which would sort of mutually enforce an equilibrium of, at least, relative integrity,” Garg said. “Right now we have neither in India.”

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Elon Musk Says He’ll Pay $11 Billion in Taxes in 2021 But Twitter Wants ‘Proof’

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Elon Musk took to Twitter to clarify once and for all that he will be paying a whopping $11 billion as taxes this year.

If the number of times Elon Musk could count when someone has asked him to pay the full taxes, he would be a very rich..wait, never mind. The Tesla boss is rich beyond any private individual has been in history, reports said.

Musk has increasingly been facing criticism from many politicians and many others who insist he has not been paying taxes as compared to the profits his companies have been making. On Sunday, the SpaceX CEO took to Twitter to share that he will be paying a whopping $11 billion as taxes.

For those wondering, I will pay over $11 billion in taxes this year— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 20, 2021

But some of the questions did not stop. One person tweeted how they needed to see Musk’s tax returns while yet another asked how much percentage was that of his total income.

A few were, however scathing of the government who thought they will add that amount to their pockets rather than using it for some proper development.

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Wow that’s enough to give each person in the world almost $2 million but instead the government will just stick it in their pockets— greg (@greg16676935420) December 20, 2021

Why not $200 billion? Asking for a Senator— litquidity (@litcapital) December 20, 2021

Earlier this week, Democratic US Senator Elizabeth Warren has tweeted to say that Musk should pay taxes and stop “freeloading off everyone else” after Time magazine named him its “person of the year”.

In response, Musk shot four tweets in which he said that the senator reminded him of a friend’s angry mom who yelled at everybody. He tweeted, ““And if you opened your eyes for 2 seconds, you would realize I will pay more taxes than any American in history this year.” “Don’t spend it all at once … oh wait you did already.”

He added further, “You remind me of when I was a kid and my friend’s angry Mom would just randomly yell at everyone for no reason.”

Musk responded by saying that he “will pay more taxes than any American in history this year”. This Twitter exchange left netizens divided as even though many supported Warren and agreed that Musk should pay more taxes, others felt that he was already doing enough.

Musk’s Tesla is worth about $1 trillion. Over the last few weeks, he has sold nearly $14 billion worth of Tesla shares.

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The Tesla boss has been pushing for his colonize Mars agenda for years now, and has made it very clear in some occasions that he would rather spend the money on putting humanity on the red planet, than pay his taxes. “My plan,” the SpaceX founder tweeted about his fortune, “is to use the money to get humanity to Mars and preserve the light of consciousness.”

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Twitter Admits Policy ‘Errors’ After Far-Right Abuse Its New Rules of Posting Pictures

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Twitter’s new picture permission policy was aimed at combating online abuse, but US activists and researchers said Friday that far-right backers have employed it to protect themselves from scrutiny and to harass opponents.

Even the social network admitted the rollout of the rules, which say anyone can ask Twitter to take down images of themselves posted without their consent, was marred by malicious reports and its teams’ own errors.

It was just the kind of trouble anti-racism advocates worried was coming after the policy was announced this week.

Their concerns were quickly validated, with anti-extremism researcher Kristofer Goldsmith tweeting a screenshot of a far-right call-to-action circulating on Telegram: “Due to the new privacy policy at Twitter, things now unexpectedly work more in our favor.”

“Anyone with a Twitter account should be reporting doxxing posts from the following accounts,” the message said, with a list of dozens of Twitter handles.

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Gwen Snyder, an organizer and researcher in Philadelphia, said her account was blocked this week after a report to Twitter about a series of 2019 photos she said showed a local political candidate at a march organized by extreme-right group Proud Boys.

Rather than go through an appeal with Twitter she opted to delete the images and alert others to what was happening.

“Twitter moving to eliminate (my) work from their platform is incredibly dangerous and is going to enable and embolden fascists,” she told AFP.

In announcing the privacy policy on Tuesday, Twitter noted that “sharing personal media, such as images or videos, can potentially violate a person’s privacy, and may lead to emotional or physical harm.”

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But the rules don’t apply to “public figures or individuals when media and accompanying Tweets are shared in the public interest or add value to public discourse.”

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By Friday, Twitter noted the roll out had been rough: “We became aware of a significant amount of coordinated and malicious reports, and unfortunately, our enforcement teams made several errors.”

“We’ve corrected those errors and are undergoing an internal review to make certain that this policy is used as intended,” the firm added.

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Jack Dorsey Post Twitter Is Chasing His Crypto, Fintech Dream

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At a packed Miami conference in June, Jack Dorsey, mused in front of thousands of attendees about where his real passion lay: “If I weren’t at Square or Twitter, I’d be working on Bitcoin.”

On Monday, Dorsey made good on one part of that, announcing he would leave Twitter for the second time, handing the CEO position to a 10-year veteran at the firm. The 45-year-old entrepreneur, who is often described as an enigma with varied interests from meditation to yoga to fashion design, plans to pursue his passion which include focusing on running Square and doing more philanthropic work, according to a source familiar with his plan.

Well before the surprise news, Dorsey had laid the groundwork for his next chapter, seeding both companies with cryptocurrency-related projects.

Underlying Dorsey’s broader vision is the principle of “decentralisation,” or the idea that technology and finance should not be concentrated among a handful of gatekeepers, as it is now, but should, instead, be steered by the hands of the many, either people or entities.

The concept has played out at Square, which has built a division devoted to working on projects and awarding grants with the aim of growing Bitcoin’s popularity globally. Bitcoin price in India stood at Rs. 44.52 lakh as of 12:50pm IST on December 1.

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Dorsey has been a longtime proponent of Bitcoin, and the appeal is that the cryptocurrency will allow for private and secure transactions with the value of Bitcoin unrelated to any government.

The idea has also underpinned new projects at Twitter, where Dorsey tapped a top lieutenant – and now the company’s new CEO Parag Agrawal – to oversee a team that is attempting to construct a decentralised social media protocol, which will allow different social platforms to connect with one another, similar to the way email providers operate.

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The project called Bluesky will aim to allow users control over the types of content they see online, removing the “burden” on companies like Twitter to enforce a global policy to fight abuse or misleading information, Dorsey said in 2019 when he announced Bluesky.

Bitcoin has also figured prominently at both of his companies. Square became one of the first public companies to own Bitcoin assets on its balance sheet, having invested $220 million (roughly Rs. 1,650 crore) in the cryptocurrency.

In August, Square created a new business unit called TBD to focus on Bitcoin. The company is also planning to build a hardware wallet for Bitcoin, a Bitcoin mining system, as well as a decentralised Bitcoin exchange.

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Twitter allows users to tip their favourite content creators with Bitcoin and has been testing integrations with non-fungible tokens (NFTs), a type of digital asset that allows people to collect unique digital art.

Analysts see the transition as a positive signal for Square, the fintech platform he co-founded in 2009. Square’s core Cash App, after a bull run in its share in 2020, has experienced slower growth in the most recent quarter. It is also trying to digest the $29 billion (roughly Rs. 2,17,240 crore) acquisition of Buy Now Pay Later provider Afterpay, its largest acquisition ever.

But these ambitions will not pay off until years from now, analysts cautioned.

“The blockchain platform they’re trying to develop is great but also fraught with technical challenges and difficult to scale for consumers. I think he’ll focus more on Square and crypto will be part of that,” said Christopher Brendler, an analyst at DA Davidson.

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© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Interested in cryptocurrency? We discuss all things crypto with WazirX CEO Nischal Shetty and WeekendInvesting founder Alok Jain on Orbital, the Gadgets 360 podcast. Orbital is available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music and wherever you get your podcasts.

Cryptocurrency is an unregulated digital currency, not a legal tender and subject to market risks. The information provided in the article is not intended to be and does not constitute financial advice, trading advice or any other advice or recommendation of any sort offered or endorsed by NDTV. NDTV shall not be responsible for any loss arising from any investment based on any perceived recommendation, forecast or any other information contained in the article.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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