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After Twitter CEO, Parliamentary panel may call other platforms too

Karishma Mehrotra, Liz Mathew
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey

The Parliamentary Committee on Information Technology Monday decided to summon Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and top company officials to appear before it on February 25, it is learnt. The committee also resolved to summon officials from other social media platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp and other tech platforms on the issue of "Safeguarding Citizens Rights on Social/Online News Media Platforms".

The decision to summon top Twitter executives comes after the microblogging platform declined to send Dorsey or global executives to appear before the parliamentary committee Monday and sent instead officials from Twitter India.

Sources said the parliamentary committee did not call Twitter India executives for deliberations Monday when they reached the meeting venue. Twitter India Director of Policy Mahima Kaul and Twitter India Government and Policy official Payal Kamat were seen outside the venue.

It is learnt that committee chairman Anurag Thakur read out a letter from Twitter that company officials in India were not authorised to take enforcement decisions. He is learnt to have said that there was no point in the committee meeting Twitter officials from India, to which the members agreed.

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The committee, it is learnt, was informed that the CEO (Dorsey) could not appear before it on such short notice. The members, it is learnt, agreed with Thakur that the committee could not accept that the Twitter CEO could not oblige Parliament.

Twitter sources said a letter from the committee on February 1 asked for "representatives of Twitter" to attend the parliamentary hearings and on February 7, another letter changed the request to "the CEO or at least the next senior most functionary in the hierarchy".

Pointing out that the committee should not give the impression that it was targeting Twitter, one member, it is learnt, suggested that other social media players like Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram should be called before the panel. Senior BJP leader L K Advani wanted to know, it is learnt, the steps taken by the government to ensure social media follows the rules of the land. The committee unanimously agreed that Twitter cannot be isolated and the others too will be asked to appear before the panel.

Members, particularly those from the BJP, wanted to know if social media players would be considered as media or a tech platform. Some members pointed out that since such companies had the power to select the content that appeared on their platforms, this makes them an algorithmic editor. Therefore, they should be considered media and potentially follow all rules meant for foreign media in the country, they said.

Among the questions sent to Twitter before Monday's meeting were the number of bot accounts, the number of suspended and fake accounts and efforts to curb "anti-social elements". Twitter was also asked its views on the need for a regulator in India, whether it uses automation to combat fake news and trolls and its remedies against complaints in India about a lack of fairness in suspension of accounts.