Would have been more serious if content was against other religions: Delhi High Court pulls up Twitter for failure to take down objectionable posts against Hindu Gods

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The Delhi High Court on Monday pulled up social media platform Twitter for not taking action and suspending accounts which post ‘blasphemous’ and objectionable content about Hindu gods and goddesses.

A division bench by Acting Chief Justice (ACJ) Vipin Sanghi and Justice Navin Chawla, directed Twitter to explain how it undertakes the blocking of accounts while noting that there were instances of certain individuals being blocked on the platform and remarked that had such an incident happened in relation to another religion, the social media platform would have been more careful and sensitive.

Therefore, Twitter was directed to file responses explaining its policy regarding permanently block an account on its platform.

The bench also directed the Central government to file a counter affidavit and place on record the standard operating procedure (SOP) with Twitter relating to blocking access to an account or information.

The bench was hearing a public interest litigation petition filed by advocate Aditya Deshwal who argued that several objectionable posts were being made through a Twitter handle named Atheist Republic and despite several complaints Twitter has neither suspended the account nor taken down the offending content.

The High Court had in November last year also expressed its displeasure on Twitter’s conduct and directed the micro-blogging site to take down four posts.

Senior advocate Sidharth Luthra, appearing for US-based Twitter, said it has removed the objectionable content in the present case and an FIR has been registered in relation to the posts.

He stated that Twitter “cannot block any individual” and cannot take action against allegedly objectionable content in the absence of a court order.

“Then why have you blocked Mr (Donald) Trump?” questioned to the court which added that prima facie, Twitter’s stand that it cannot block account was “not entirely correct”.

The court stated that since Twitter did not object to the court’s earlier prime facie view in relation to the removal of the allegedly objectionable content in the present case, the social media platform should have taken action on its own when more offending material was pointed out.

“Since respondent number 3 (Twitter) has not questioned the prima facie view of the court with respect to the nature of the content, respondent number 3 should have on its own, without waiting for today’s hearing taken down the posts mentioned by the petitioner as early as on December 9, 2021,” the court said.

“We can take note of the fact that respondent no 3 has blocked the account of certain individuals from time to time. We direct respondent no 3 to place before the court the policy and under what circumstances it resorted to such action,” the court added as it noted the framework under the relevant Information Technology Rules for social media intermediaries.

Central government lawyer Harish Vaidyanathan said that there is a procedure in place for the blocking of Twitter accounts against whom complaints are received.

The court directed the Centre to examine the content in the present case and decide if action for blocking the account is called for under the Information Technology Act.

The Bench also recorded her undertaking that all offending material already removed or directed to be removed from its account will not be uploaded till the matter is decided by the court.

The matter will be heard next on September 6.

[Case Title -  Aditya Singh Deshwal v Union of India and Ors].