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Explained | Is Twitter acceding to takedown requests?


How has the social media platform reacted to pleas for information data from governments around the world?

The story so far: On Wednesday, social media platform Twitter released its Transparency Report for the second half of last year (July 1 to December 31), in which it was revealed that India was the single largest source of government information requests. India also was one of the prominent sources of legal demands for removal of content, according to the report.

What’s the transparency report all about?

Twitter started publishing a biannual report — Twitter Transparency Report — in 2012. The original goal, it says in its blog, “was to provide the public with recurring insights into government pressures that impacted the public, whether through overt political censorship or by way of compelling account data through information requests”.

 

It further says, “A lot has changed since 2012. It is now more important than ever that we also shine a light on our own practices, including enforcement of the Twitter Rules and our ongoing work to disrupt global state-backed information operations.”

Over the years, the scope of the report has been expanded gradually. Additional categories such as non-government legal requests, trademark notices, coordinated manipulation, and so on, have been added from time to time. This aspect of reporting isn’t rare any more.

Google, which has been issuing its transparency reports since 2010, says in its blog that “transparency reporting is an increasingly common practice across industries”. It then goes on to list over 40 brands, from Facebook to Reddit, and from Uber to Yahoo!, that undertake transparency reporting.

What are the highlights of the latest report?

As mentioned above, there are different categories under which Twitter provides the data. One of the main categories is ‘Government Information Requests,’ and this includes “both emergency and routine legal demands for account information issued by law enforcement and other government agencies”. The report noted that there was a 15% increase in such requests (and more than a 100% increase in the number of accounts specified in these requests) compared with the January-June 2020 period.

 

Notably, for the first time in the history of the transparency report, the U.S. wasn’t the “top global requester”. India was. It accounted for 25% of the global volume and 15% of the global accounts specified. The U.S., however, submitted the highest volume of global emergency requests, at 34%, followed by Japan (17%) and South Korea (16%).

Twitter describes routine requests as “legal demands issued by government of law enforcement authorities (e.g. subpoenas, court orders, search warrants)” that compel it to turn over account information. Emergency requests, on the other hand, may be entertained “if we are provided with sufficient information to support a good faith belief that there is an imminent threat involving danger of death or serious physical injury to a person, and we have information relevant to averting or mitigating the threat”.

Under the category of ‘Government Information Requests,’ Twitter says it “narrowed or did not disclose information in response to 70%” of the requests.

One of the other significant sub-categories is ‘Legal Demands’, which provides data about court orders and other formal demands to remove content. The source of such demands can be “governmental entities and lawyers representing individuals”. While the number of global legal demands fell 9% to 38,524, a whopping 94% of the demands came from just five countries (Japan, India, Russia, Turkey and South Korea).

 

Japan was the top requester in this category, accounting for 43% of the total. India was next, at 18%. Japan’s requests, Twitter says, were largely related to “laws regarding narcotics and psychotropics, obscenity, or money lending”.

A large portion of Russian requests related to its laws prohibiting the promotion of suicide. This section of the report also notes that “199 accounts of verified journalists and news outlets from around the world were subject to 361 legal demands, a 26% increase in the number of accounts since the previous reporting period. These included removal requests from India (128), Turkey (108), Pakistan (52), and Russia (28)”.

The compliance rate, which is the “percentage of information requests where Twitter produced at least some sort of requested account information”, in the case of requests emerging from India was far less compared with the average of the worldwide data.

What else is notable about the new report?

Twitter has started reporting about two additional things. One is an impressions metric, which “captures the number of views violative Tweets received prior to removal”. The other is about the adoption of two-factor authentication “to keep accounts safe and secure”. About the first, Twitter said violative tweets accounted for less than 0.1% of all impressions for all tweets globally during this period, and it had removed 3.8 million tweets that flouted its rules. Only 6% of the removed tweets had more than 1,000 impressions.

Was there another report specific to India?

On July 11, it published ‘Twitter’s India Transparency Report,’ under the new Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021. It will be a monthly report from now on. This comes after months of uneasiness between the government and Twitter over the latter’s non-compliance with the new rules, including the delay in the appointment of a grievance officer. The social media platform has just complied with that requirement. This report dealt with user grievances and proactive monitoring, which Twitter says refers to “content proactively identified by employing internal proprietary tools and industry hash sharing initiatives”. In the May-June period, it reportedly suspended over 18,000 accounts for child sexual exploitation and a further over 4,000 accounts for promotion of terrorism.



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