Elon Musk, the
world’s richest man, wants Twitter, the social media giant he just acquired, to
be a free speech zone. The 50-year-old billionaire, a self-proclaimed “free
speech absolutist,” cannot be blamed for being consistent in his political opinions.
But his insistence on free speech, at least what he understands to be free
speech, which may mean different things at different times, may not sit well
with several nation-states and their laws.

When Musk
announced his acquisition of Twitter, he said, “Free speech is the bedrock of a
functioning democracy
, and Twitter is the digital square where matters vital to
the future of humanity are debated.”

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Of-and-on, Musk
has expressed his frustration with Twitter’s content moderators who he thought
were overzealous in shutting down free expression. He had tweeted that he hoped
even his worst critics remain on Twitter, “because that is what free speech

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While free speech
in democracies such as the United States means a certain degree of absolute
quality, in India, reasonable restrictions on the freedom of expression are
part of the Constitution. While the first amendment to the US Constitution
affords the freedom of expression and a free press, the first amendment to the
Indian Constitution, made in 1951, places restrictions on free speech.

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The restrictions
to free expression in India relate to “sovereignty and integrity of India, the
security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order,
decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement
to an offence.”

Musk’s maximalist
free speech ideal, or what he calls his free speech absolutism, may run into
many of these restrictions in the Indian context. Twitter, in India, is big,
and the place where the biggest political leaders often choose to make the
grandest announcements. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, quite like Elon
Musk, has among the highest number of Twitter followers in the world.

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As for a legal
framework on expression in the digital space, Section 69A of The Information
Technology Act, 2000, allows the government to send takedown notices to social
media platforms asking them to remove content restricted under the

It is the duty of
social media companies to conduct a due diligence in order to not lose their
status as an “intermediary”. If a social media company loses its “intermediary”
status, courts can hold it accountable for third-party speech opening up the
company to further litigation.

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When some
governments reportedly asked Starlink to shut down Russian channels from playing
in Ukraine, Elon Musk had made is “free speech absolutist” remark and refused.
If Musk were to take the same approach in India, things could turn out