Sanjay Hegde tells Delhi High Court

Senior barrister Sanjay Hegde told the Delhi High Court that social media giant Twitter performs a public function of “great public interest“which makes him subject to the jurisdiction of the High Court.

In written submissions filed in his motion seeking the restoration of his suspended Twitter account, Hegde further advised the Court that a purely private contract may be enforced by mandamus if the body is found to perform a public function.

A body can be considered to perform a public function even if its functions are purely voluntary and for profit, Hegde told the court.

“It is not necessary for a body to perform functions which are related or similar to a sovereign function for it to be susceptible to written jurisdiction. As has already been argued, activities involving a “high public interest “are considered a public function,“, read the written observations.

Hegde further informed the Court that Twitter claims a right to block content and ban users, even going beyond the powers granted to the executive and the judiciary. Additionally, it was also highlighted how Twitter in particular and other intermediaries in general have taken conflicting positions regarding their authority to censor or block accounts.

“In Aditya Singh Deshwal v Union Of India & Ors, WP (Crl) 2140/2021 (Order dated 28.3.2022), Twitter took the position that it could not block accounts. A completely contradictory position was taken in this case”, submissions further indicate.

Additionally, it has also been argued that Twitter is required to follow principles of natural justice when dealing with its users. It relies on Rule 4(6) of the Information Technology Rules 2021 (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Code of Ethics), which requires intermediaries to implement a mechanism to receive claims and complaints from users.

In addition, Rule 4(8) requires intermediaries to provide notice to the user before the user-generated content is removed, and to provide that user with a reasonable opportunity to challenge the action taken. through.

The written observations were submitted by Lawyer Pranjal Kishore.

The development followed after Twitter challenged the maintainability of Hegde’s petition, saying it did not serve public office and did not come under written jurisdiction in India under Article 226 of the Constitution.

Hegde invoked the jurisdiction of the High Court, asserting that (i) Twitter confers a public function; and (ii) the nature of the activities undertaken by Twitter is in the promotion of a fundamental right under Article 19(1)(a).

Society, on the other hand, argues that for an activity to qualify as a “public duty”, a positive obligation must be imposed to discharge that duty.

About the case

Citing the portrayal of “hateful images”, Twitter had blocked Hegde’s account in October 2019, for posting the photo of August Landmesser in which he refused the Nazi salute during a rally, when everyone around he was doing it; an image that Hegde claims has been in place for several months as a cover photo.

Following a massive virtual outcry in his favour, Twitter restored his account the next day, only to block him again, this time for sharing the poem titled “Hang Him”. Hedge said the said post dated back to 2017, where he retweeted the poem posted by Kavita Krishnan, which dealt with the hanging of two peasant revolutionaries in independent India.

Hegde had maintained that said posts did not violate any of Twitter’s posting standards.

August Landmesser’s image does not fall into the category of “hate images” and the poem is a comment against the capitalist system which denies the basic rights of the poor, Hegde had said. He added that the cover image was an iconic image against majoritarianism and was not a Nazi image as Twitter’s profiling system believed.

He added that he had only quoted the original tweet containing the poem and that the failure to delete the original tweet showed that Twitter’s action in blocking his “@sanjayuvacha” Twitter account was arbitrary and illegal.

Case Title: Sanjay R Hegde v. Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology and Anr

Thelma J. Longworth