Now that Nigeria has shown it isn’t afraid to ban Twitter, some worry India might be next if the tussle between New Delhi and the company can’t be resolved.
“You may see more calls for banning Twitter in India, if it continues to defy the government,” Pahwa told CNN Business.
The Silicon Valley-based company’s response to political pressure in these countries will decide its trajectory in fast-growing economies that are critical to any global expansion strategy. Successfully navigating the tensions could give other American technology firms a roadmap for dealing with governments that have increasingly authoritarian tendencies.
Months of tensions have led to Twitter’s problems in both Nigeria and India.
Tensions escalated this month when Twitter deleted the post by Buhari for violating its policies on abusive behavior.
“The Nigeria ban will definitely get many other emerging economies thinking about how to also get the attention of platforms,” Gbenga Sesan, executive director of Paradigm Initiative, which works on digital inclusion and rights in Africa, told CNN Business. He added that if Twitter meets Nigeria’s new registration requirements, “then such countries could try the same approach in order to get tax revenues.”
Threats to free speech in India
Twitter has said it has concerns about “core elements of the new IT Rules,” and the “potential threat to freedom of speech” in the country. But Modi’s government says the company is trying to “undermine India’s legal system” by its “deliberate defiance” of the rules.
“Twitter needs to stop beating around the bush and comply with the laws of the land,” the government said in a statement in May. “Law making and policy formulations is the sole prerogative of the sovereign and Twitter is just a social media platform and it has no [place] in dictating what … India’s legal policy framework should be.”
For many in India, the debate around social media usage in the country is not so much about freedom of speech but rather about a foreign company challenging the might of the Indian government, Pahwa told CNN Business. He added that the ban in Nigeria “adds more fuel to that fire.”
Hire locally, grow locally
In order to survive and thrive in these emerging economies, companies like Twitter may have to invest more in local teams and understanding local laws, experts said.
And government pressure may already be weakening Twitter’s resolve.
After signaling its reservations with the new social media rules last month, the company has now said it remains “deeply committed” to India, which is among its largest markets in the world.
“We have assured the Government of India that Twitter is making every effort to comply with the new guidelines, and an overview on our progress has been duly shared,” the company said in a statement this week. “We will continue our constructive dialogue with the Indian government.”
For Vivan Sharan, partner at Delhi-based tech policy consulting firm Koan Advisory Group, the Nigeria shutdown and the debate in India may be a “wake-up call” for western social media companies to “grow local capacity to moderate content, and devolve decision making to country offices.”
“This is of course a tall order for new-age companies that are used to global scale and presence, without commensurately large investments on the ground,” he said.
“Most social media majors spend the largest share of their operational bandwidth on developed markets. This paradigm is untenable and is now beginning to shift,” he added. “Companies that don’t double down on localization in emerging markets, may find themselves on the wrong side of the splinternet.”
— Stephanie Busari in Lagos contributed to this report.