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Samiran Gupta takes up the toughest job in Indian tech policy

Gupta’s new role comes with a controversial past that involves a standoff with the Indian government over free speech.

Samiran Gupta has been appointed as the head of Twitter’s Public Policy team for India and South Asia, according to a tweet by Kathleen Reen, Twitter’s Senior Director of Public Policy and Philanthropy for the Asia Pacific, on February 24. Gupta was formerly the head of stakeholder engagement at Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

The leader of this team (which has functioned without one for nearly a year) will take up one of the toughest jobs in Indian tech policy. Gupta’s appointment comes nearly a year after former India and South Asia Public Policy head Mahima Kaul resigned from the company citing personal reasons, in the midst of a standoff between the company and the Indian government. Over the last year, the company has received a police ‘visit’, seen protests from opposition parties, has almost lost its coveted safe harbour or indemnity against third party unlawful content, and much more.

Why is this the toughest job?

Content moderation and the Indian government: Although India accounts for 24.45 million users – its fourth-largest market in the world, according to Statista – Twitter faces a significant problem when it comes to content moderation. Last year, Twitter was accused by the Indian government of not taking enough action based on content takedown requests sent by the government (of which India is the fourth largest source in the world). However, the problem really lies more with selective action than just action taken.

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Last year, when the platform marked a tweet by a spokesperson of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party as manipulated media, its offices were visited by the Delhi Police for alleged investigation purposes, and Twitter’s action was investigated by the government. In the US, when Twitter de-platformed former President Donald Trump, it set off alarm bells in India with BJP MP Tejasvi Surya calling for changes in the law to prevent social media platforms from doing the same in India.

What happened to Manish Maheshwari: To illustrate the kind of challenges that lie ahead for Gupta, last year, former Managing Director of Twitter India Manish Maheshwari faced multiple court cases and criminal charges as Twitter India faced the possibility of losing its safe harbour due to a delay in complying with the Information Technology (IT) Rules, 2021. Later that year, Maheshwari was transferred to Twitter’s US team which he quit a few months later.

Problems with users, growth, and manipulation: Accusations of bias against Twitter have led to an influx of users on homegrown micro-blogging platform Koo, which is perceived as an Indian alternative to Twitter. Most recently, an investigation by The Wire uncovered an alarmingly sophisticated app called TekFog that can be used to manipulate Twitter trends and target automated hate content towards specific groups of people with auto-replies on the platform.

Nikhil Pahwa’s take: Twitter is a platform that has political and public narrative impact, and politicians and the Indian government is prickly about what happens on the platform. It is a high pressure job — probably a little more than Facebook India now, given the faceoff with the government last year — and politicians have used it to frame, shape and question the public narrative. At the centre of many a controversy, expect Samiran Gupta’s job to be hectic, busy with creating a framework for firefighting and de-escalation, and — for his sake — building an army of people to help deal with many a storm. Twitter India has been grossly understaffed for many years, and one wonders whether anyone even considering joining them after the last couple of years is a sucker for punishment. Gupta has his task cut out, and he should take cue from the capacity that Ankhi Das built at Facebook.

In SEC filing, Twitter raised concerns with Indian laws

In its latest regulatory filing with the US Securities Exchange Commission (SEC), Twitter expressed concerns about proposed Indian legislation that could subject it to penalties for not removing content as well as Indian consumer practices of using feature phones instead of smartphones.

“…we are subject to legislation in Germany that may impose significant fines for failure to comply with certain content removal and disclosure obligations. Other countries, including Brazil, Turkey, Singapore, India, Australia, and the United Kingdom, have implemented or are considering similar legislation imposing penalties for failure to remove certain types of content.” — Twitter

On the widespread usage of feature phones, Twitter noted it was experiencing difficulties in augmenting its monetisation prospects. Twitter also said that “different levels of internet access” or mobile device adoption puts the company at a risk.

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I cover health technology for MediaNama, among other things. Reach me at anushka@medianama.com

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