The parliamentary standing committee on information technology is exploring ways of expressing its frustration, including declaring breach of privilege, at being unable to get Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey or his secondin-command to attend its hearing on Monday, said people with knowledge of the matter.
This may include sending a “strong” recommendation to the government seeking adverse action, they said. The committee will decide what “action” can be taken against Twitter, they added.
The panel had summoned representatives of Twitter and the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology to be present before it on Monday at 3 pm to examine the issue of “safeguarding citizens’ rights on social media/online news platforms”.
Twitter said it wouldn’t be able to get Dorsey, who was recently in India, to the country on time.
“Given the short notice of the hearing, we informed the committee that it would not be possible for senior officials from Twitter to travel from the United States to appear on Monday,” Twitter had said on Saturday. “Our CEO, Jack Dorsey, and other senior Twitter executives visited India in recent weeks because it is an important market for Twitter and we value the growing interest in Twitter in India.”
BJP lawmaker Anurag Thakur, who heads the panel, told ET, “The committee decided to call the head of Twitter because it felt it should interact with the person who could be held responsible for actions of the company rather than people who do not have powers for any policy making or enforcement.” The panel members have taken strong exception to Twitter seeking to defer the “interaction” to March-April, said sources.
“They are fully aware that nobody will be available during that time because of the crucial Lok Sabha elections,” said a government official.
The committee had initially decided to hold the interaction on February 7 and it was pushed to February 11 to give Twitter more time, said another member of the committee.
“But even 10 days’ time seems to be short notice for them (Twitter). This only shows that they are shying away from their responsibility and perhaps have a lot to hide. They must be mindful of the fact that the committee, if push comes to shove, can go to any lengths to ensure accountability,” he said. “This is perhaps happening for the first time that someone does not have the time for an established institution of Parliament. They appear to be running away from their responsibility.”
The panel chose to call Dorsey or his deputy because of a communication from Twitter on February 7.
“The letter clearly indicated that the Indian representatives (of Twitter) do not have the authority to frame policy or its enforcement,” said a member of the committee who didn’t want to be named. “The committee, thus, felt it futile to interact with such representatives and decided to interact with the company’s CEO or his deputy.”
The panel has a track record on taking up matters of public interest, he said. “It needs to be appreciated that it took a parliamentary panel to set the ball rolling on a debate on net neutrality in Parliament, something which was latched on to by the public three months later,” he said.
“In the instant case, the parliamentary committee wants to debate on the rising false propaganda on Twitter, which is not only influencing mainstream media but is also influencing opinions of people.”
When asked about allegations of trolls being on the payroll of political parties, the member of the committee cited above said, “It is not about ideology or individuals. It is about who shoulders the responsibility for allowing false propaganda to be peddled in the garb of opinion. If a fake handle of the Indian Army is being made (on Twitter) and lies are being spread, somebody has to be held accountable. Twitter cannot be allowed to be misused on the pretext that it is a platform to discuss ideas.”
On Saturday, Twitter said: “We appreciate and respect the committee’s focus on the issue of user safety and user rights… we have indicated that we are willing to participate in such a broad hearing process.”
In its previous reply on February 7, Twitter had said, “No one who engages publicly for Twitter India makes enforcement decisions with respect to our rules for content or accounts in India.”