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India’s controversial map: Is PM Modi’s government ‘blackmailing’ Twitter?

India's technology minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has criticised Twitter for its failure to abide by new Indian rules and for denying him access to his Twitter account.

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The government of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is in a battle with U.S. tech firms over a new set of online speech rules that it has enacted for the nation of nearly 1.4 billion.

In the latest development, a Hindu hardline group has filed a complaint with police against Twitter’s (TWTR.N) country head after politically sensitive regions were depicted outside a map of India on its website, kickstarting an investigation in a fresh headache for the U.S. tech firm.

A map on Twitter’s careers page showed Jammu and Kashmir region, which is claimed by both India and Pakistan, as well as the Buddhist enclave of Ladakh outside India. That provoked an outcry on social media this week that comes amid strained relations between Twitter and New Delhi over the firm’s compliance with India’s new IT rules.

The complaint accuses Twitter’s India boss Manish Maheshwari and another company executive of breaching the country’s IT rules as well as laws designed to prevent enmity and hatred between classes.

“This has hurt my sentiments and those of the people of India,” Praveen Bhati, a leader of the group Bajrang Dal in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, said in the complaint which was reviewed by Reuters. He also called it an act of treason.

India’s technology minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has criticised Twitter for its failure to abide by new Indian rules and for denying him access to his Twitter account.

To comply with rules that came into effect in May, companies such as Twitter must appoint a chief compliance officer, a grievance officer and another executive who will liaise with law enforcement and the government on legal requests. LinkedIn job postings show the three positions are open at Twitter.

Last year, the head of an Indian parliamentary panel accused Twitter of disrespecting New Delhi’s sovereignty, after mapping data showed Indian-ruled territory as part of China in what the social media firm said was a quickly resolved mistake.

Growing tension with New Delhi has discouraged U.S. big tech firms about prospects for their largest growth market, so much so that some are rethinking expansion plans.

Read More: India’s IT minister criticises Twitter for denying access to account

The escalation of tensions between Modi’s government and tech firms, activists say, could result in the curtailment of Indians’ online speech.

“Absent a change in direction, the future of free speech in the world’s largest democracy is increasingly imperiled,” said Samir Jain, director of policy at the Center for Democracy & Technology, a digital rights advocacy group.

How India controls social media?

A report published in The Wall Street Journal pointed out that due to economic interests “Facebook deliberately ignored its own hate speech policies and allowed Islamophobic speech to remain on its platform in India to avoid upsetting the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)”. Twitter and Facebook did not dare remove T. Raja Singh from the sites even after he said that “Rohingya Muslim immigrants should be shot, called Muslims traitors and threatened to raze mosques”.

In response to The Wall Street Journal’s report, Ankhi Das, public policy director of Facebook India, resigned from her post. She has been replaced by Shivnath Thukral, who is said to have close ties with the BJP.

https://twitter.com/Farah_adeed/status/1348507716080304128?s=20

Some analysts argue that the social media sites’ disregard for human rights and fundamental liberal values can further be gauged from the fact that they do not allow the people of Indian occupied Kashmir, “the most heavily militarized regions in the world” to speak up for their rights. Facebook appears to have close ties with the present fascist Hindu regime of PM Narendra Modi, to the extent that it has censored the phrase “Free Kashmir”.

Read More: India to ban Twitter, Facebook, YouTube & WhatsApp?

report by the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) revealed that the occupied valley has seen at least 229 killings during more than 100 military operations since January 2020.  From January 1st, 2020, to June 30th, the region witnessed extrajudicial executions of at least 32 civilians and the killing of 54 armed forces personnel, the report stated.