On Tuesday, the government lashed out at the former Twitter Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder, Jack Dorsey, for claiming that the social media platform was under pressure and threatened with being shut down during the farmers’ protest.

“This is an outright lie by @jack (Dorsey) - perhaps an attempt to brush out that very dubious period of Twitter’s history. Facts and truth @twitter under Dorsey and his team were in repeated and continuous violations of India law. As a matter of fact, they were in non-compliance with the law repeatedly from 2020 to 2022, and it was only in June 2022 that they finally complied. No one went to jail, nor was Twitter “shut down,” Rajeev Chandrasekhar, Minister of State for Electronics and Information Technology, said.

The Minister was reacting to Dorsey’s claim during an interview with the YouTube channel Breaking Points, where he said: “During the farmer protest, the Indian government pressurised us (Twitter) and said we would shut down Twitter in India and raid the homes of your employees if you don’t listen to us”.

IT minister’s rebuttal

Rebutting his claim, Chandrasekhar said that Twitter, under Dorsey, had a problem accepting the sovereignty of Indian law, and it behaved as if the laws of India did not apply to it.

Differences between the government and Twitter have been brewing over the last few years. Twitter was among the few companies that legally challenged certain aspects of the IT rules introduced by the government in 2021. In May that year, Delhi police visited Twitter offices in Delhi and Gurgaon to seek more information about Twitter’s rationale for labelling one of the tweets by a BJP spokesperson as “manipulated media.”

Wrong timing

Analysts said the delay in Dorsey making this revelation from the time that he headed Twitter is a little hard to explain, especially in a year when there are so many elections.

“When it comes to making allegations against the government, it will never be too late. But such remarks being made right around elections will evoke suspicion. When he is making such statements, they will have to be looked at against the background and circumstances in which such comments were prompted and if any facts could be presented to support this,” Abhishek Malhotra (Managing Partner) of TMT Law Practice said.

Meanwhile, the Congress Party launched an all-out attack on the government for “gagging the voices of truth and opposition” and “crushing all those who were trying to question him”.

The spat between Dorsey and the government comes after allegations were made earlier about the government using Pegasus software on WhatsApp for surveillance of certain individuals. However, these allegations could not be proven. Experts said that the use of social media by State actors for surveillance purposes is becoming common across the world, but the lack of a proper data protection law leaves Indian users vulnerable. “Irrespective of the validity of the allegations by Dorsey, the government should bring laws for protecting user data. That’s a basic right in the digital world,” said an industry analyst.