The next shot in a long-running battle over the Indian government’s restrictive speech rules was fired on Tuesday when Twitter revealed it has filed a lawsuit against the government of that nation. The New York Times was the first to announce that Twitter had been forced to delete many accounts and messages for breaking Indian defamation and obscenity laws. Twitter has now deleted the messages, but it is still seeking legal protection from more court rulings.
The conflict began in May of last year when India published new IT regulations for online material. A police raid on Twitter’s operations in India soon after. The Indian authorities promised to hold Twitter accountable for any future violations committed by its users in July of that year.
Twitter has generally maintained that it conforms with local speech regulations; nonetheless, Indian laws regarding obscenity and seditious speech are exceptionally strict. The nation has historically employed speech restrictions to prevent public debate of internal political unrest or environmental issues. In a 2016 study on the subject, renowned novelist Arundhati Roy—who was charged with sedition for comments she made on the strife in Kashmir—described the system as chaotic and oppressive. Roy remarked at the time, “The most terrifying thing is that any insane coot may go and submit a complaint against you. It’s been harassing in a severe way.
The persistent ambiguity surrounding Elon Musk’s effort to buy Twitter and take it private complicates the legal battle. In June, Musk vowed to uphold free speech principles as Twitter’s owner, but he also committed to follow local regulations and made employee reductions seem likely, making it harder to successfully defend the company’s stance in India. Despite having committed to buying the business, Musk still expresses skepticism about whether the deal will ever go through, which casts more uncertainty over the company’s future.