Free speech incidental to user contract, don't perform public function, Twitter tells HC

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New Delhi, Jul 8 (PTI) Twitter Inc has told the Delhi High Court that it does not impart public function and “serving the ends of freedom of speech and expression” was only incidental to its contractual relationship with the users.

In a note submit to the high court in connection with the suspension of a senior advocate's account, the microblogging site said that “services on the Twitter platform is a contractual relationship” and “in its commercial venture, that it incidentally also serves the ends of freedom of speech and expression would not convert the nature of the activity”.

“On the ipse dixit of its activity being of a public nature in the wider sense of the phrase, the Respondent No. 2 (Twitter Inc) cannot be said to be imparting a public function..,” it submitted.

Twitter has asserted that since it provides contractual services to its users as per its terms and conditions, any dispute would go before ordinary courts for redressal and not to the high courts under writ jurisdiction.

Senior advocate Sanjay Hegde moved the high court under its writ jurisdiction in December 2019 after his Twitter account was permanently suspended for allegedly re-tweeting two posts.

Twitter responded by claiming that Hegde's petition was not maintainable.

In its note, Twitter contended that suspension of Hegde's Twitter account was a contractual dispute and there was no positive obligation on it to provide its service.

The US-based firm stated that its services are covered by the Information Technology Act which has a mechanism grievance redressal mechanism.

Hegde's recourse is to file a complaint on the portal under the Act, Hegde added.

In his plea, filed through advocate Pranjal Kishore, Hegde asked if large multi-national corporations like Twitter were not amenable to the constitutional scrutiny for their actions.

According to his petition, the first of the two posts re-tweeted by him in November 2019, was of Kavita Krishnan, the secretary of All India Progressive Women's Association (AIPWA) and a member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) (CPI-ML) Politburo. She had posted Gorakh Pandey's poem 'Unko phaansi de do' on her Twitter profile.

Hegde had re-tweeted and shared Krishnan's post with the caption 'Hang Him', an English translation of the poem's title, the petition said.

The second post was a picture of August Landmesser which Hegde was using as his profile header/ cover photo for over a year, it said.

The government, in its response filed through central government standing counsel Kirtiman Singh, said the issue of suspension of account was prima facie between Hegde and Twitter and it has not directed that the account be suspended.

The plea contended that suspension of the senior lawyer's Twitter account “is illegal, arbitrary and contrary to the Respondent No.2's (Twitter) own terms of use and rules” and also violates his right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under the Constitution.

It also submitted that the government was not a necessary party to these proceedings and claimed that the petition was not maintainable and it should be dismissed. PTI ADS SA

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