Twitter moves India head back to US after government standoff

Twitter has more than 17.5 million users in India, making the South Asian country one of its largest markets.   © Reuters

YIFAN YU, Nikkei staff writer | India

PALO ALTO, U.S.– Twitter has moved the head of its Indian business back to the U.S. amid unabating tensions with the Indian government over new regulations and rows involving the social media company’s handling of political content and misinformation.

Manish Maheshwari, who became head of Twitter India in 2019, will start a new role in the company’s San Francisco headquarters as a senior director of revenue strategy and operations, focusing on the company’s growth in emerging new markets, a Twitter spokesperson told Nikkei Asia.

“Thank you to all the Tweeps, clients and partners in India that I have worked with over the past few years. Looking forward to leverage my India experience to drive revenue growth in new markets around the world,” Maheshwari said in a tweet Friday.

Maheshwari has been personally named in at least two police reports in India as frictions between New Delhi and the U.S. social media giant have escalated in recent months. In one case in June he was accused of “treason” after Twitter published a map that marked the region of Kashmir as a separate country.

Twitter has about 22.1 million users in India out of its global total of 206 million, making the South Asian country its third-largest market, according to market intelligence firm Statista based on July data.

The company has not yet announced how it will fill Maheshwari’s position in India. Local media reported that the company has decided not to appoint a country director, and operations will instead be run by its India leadership team collectively, overseen by the vice president of Twitter JAPAC and Twitter Japan, Yu Sasamoto.

“We remain committed to our employees, customers, businesses and civil societies who use Twitter across India as we fulfill our company’s purpose to support the public conversation in this strategic market,” a Twitter spokesperson said.

New internet regulations that came into effect on May 26 have exacerbated tensions between Twitter and the Indian government.

The new information technology rule, which was unveiled in February, requires large social-media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Twitter to bolster content oversight. Under the new rule, companies need to appoint a chief compliance officer, a “nodal contact person” to coordinate with law enforcement agencies around the clock, and a resident grievance officer.

In June, India’s IT minister called out Twitter for not complying with the new rule and “deliberately” choosing a path of defiance. The company became compliant in August after it appointed several new executives in the country including a chief compliance officer, according to an Indian court.

Twitter is not the only U.S. company to have clashed with New Delhi after the new IT rule was announced. Facebook-owned WhatsApp has challenged the government in the Delhi High Court, saying the rule violates user privacy rights and is unconstitutional.

In addition to the rows over the new regulation, Twitter has faced pressures in India surrounding its handling of political content on the platform.

Earlier this year, it removed several hundred accounts with links to Indian farmers’ protests against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s agricultural reforms, after New Delhi repeatedly ordered it to do so and threatened legal action.

The company’s New Delhi office was also visited by Indian police after its moderators labeled a tweet by the national spokesperson of the governing BJP party as potentially misleading, according to media reports.

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