A parliamentary panel has summoned the chief executive officer (CEO) of Twitter, Jack Dorsey to appear before it on February 25, after declining to meet representatives from India who appeared before the panel in his stead. HT learns that the panel may also be considering summoning executives from other large social media platforms including Facebook.
The parliamentary panel on information technology said it wouldn’t listen to representatives from the company who do not have the authority for decision making. At its meeting, the panel expressed concern over how algorithms are channelised in India, and has also sought to know the details about the funding of advertisements that appear on the platform said a person familiar with the discussions.
According to a second person familiar with the discussions, members of the panel said there needs to be a clarification on the nature of the medium; whether it is a technology-driven platform or a content controlling platform.
“If it is a content controlling platform through algorithms, then it is a media platform and a different set of regulations, including over the infusion of foreign direct investment apply. That question remains unresolved for now,” added this person.
Interestingly, this is a question governments and regulators around the world are asking technology companies and social media platforms that have always portrayed themselves as so-called intermediaries — largely because being classified an intermediary protects them against being liable for the content on the platform.
Members of the panel also expressed “dissatisfaction” over how Twitter responded to the summons.
Members of the committee, headed by Bharatiya Janata Party Member of Parliament Anurag Thakur have underlined the need for greater transparency, pointing out how the platform is being used for elections and how tailoring views could have an impact on the forthcoming general elections.
“The code for their algorithm is not written in India; and it is the algorithm that determines stories, trends and what feed appears on the timelines. Indirectly, they are checking freedom of speech, allowing [views] of certain segments and not allowing [views] of certain segments,” said a third person familiar with the discussions at the panel.
Twitter declined comment on not being allowed to attend the meeting on Monday, but last week denied allegations of a bias against certain handles, the main reason the company’s CEO was summoned before the panel. In a statement, the company said, “Twitter is a global platform that serves a global, public conversation. Elevating debate and open discourse is fundamental to the platform’s service; and its core values as a company. Twitter is committed to remain unbiased with the public interest in mind.” The company sent its policy director Mahima Kaul to the meeting.
It also suggested finding “mutually agreeable dates for this meeting” so that a senior Twitter official can attend. Earlier this month, it also announced it would provide a new dashboard showing expenses on political advertisements by parties on its platform.
“The Twitter CEO has been given 15 days notice to show their company’s seriousness and transparency on safeguarding rights of Indian citizens online” said the first person.
The panel was approached by a right-wing group Youth for Social Media Democracy, which alleged that the platform was arbitrarily shadow-banning and suspending accounts of those who are sympathetic to the ruling BJP.
A senior BJP leader, requesting anonymity said the parliamentary panel has the rights to take action against the company for non-adherence. “If they can attend summons from the US Parliament, how can they undermine the Indian Parliament?” this person asked.
Last year, following reports of misuse of consumer data, a United States Congressional committee summoned the CEOs of social media platforms: Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Indian-American Sunder Pichai of Google, and Jack Dorsey of Twitter for a hearing on data privacy.