Twitter announced on Tuesday that it has filed a lawsuit against the Indian government, the latest salvo in an ongoing battle over the country’s aggressive language laws. The lawsuit comes after Twitter was ordered to delete a series of accounts and posts violating India’s obscenity and defamation laws, as first reported by The New York Times† Twitter has now removed the posts, but is seeking legal protection against such injunctions in the future.
The battle started last May when India issued new IT rules for online content, followed shortly by a police raid on Twitter’s Indian offices. In July, Indian regulators threatened to hold Twitter liable for future violations by its users.
In general, Twitter has long claimed to comply with local laws regarding speech, but Indian laws regarding obscenity and inflammatory speech are unusually aggressive. In the past, the country has used speech laws to stifle environmental problems or wider discussion of internal political struggles. Prominent author Arundhati Roy, who was charged with sedition for making statements about the Kashmir conflict, described the system as both chaotic and repressive in a 2016 report on the matter. “The scariest thing is that any crazy coot can file a complaint against you,” Roy said at the time. “It’s a serious amount of harassment.”
Twitter’s legal battle is complicated by lingering confusion over Elon Musk’s bid to buy the company and take it private. In June, Musk pledged to emphasize the values of free speech as the owner of Twitter, but also said he would obey local laws and hint at staff cuts that would make it harder to defend the company’s position in India effectively. Despite signing an agreement to acquire the company, Musk himself remains unsure whether the acquisition will go through, raising further doubts about the company’s future.