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Facebook, Twitter and Instagram stare at India ban as time runs out for complying with new rules

The government had warned that non-compliance could result in these social media firms losing their status and protections as intermediaries and may become liable for criminal action as per existing laws of India.  

Facebook Twitter Instagram face India ban deadline for complying with new rules ends-VPN
New Delhi, First Published May 26, 2021, 10:27 AM IST
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The deadline for social media giants Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to comply with the Information Technology ministry's new guidelines has expired, with neither of them meeting any of the requirements.

The ministry had given social media companies three months to comply with the guidelines of the new Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code Rules) 2021. 

The government had warned that non-compliance could result in these social media firms losing their status and protections as intermediaries and may become liable for criminal action as per existing laws of India.  

Except for the Indian social media company Koo, which now has a user base of over 50 lakh, none of the social media giants has appointed a resident grievance officer, chief compliance officer and nodal contact person as mandated by the new regulations. 

More so, some platforms have been giving the Indian government standard reply that they are awaiting instructions from their company headquarters in the United States. 

Hours before the deadline ended, a Facebook spokesperson said that the company aimed to comply with the provisions of the IT rules and continue to discuss a few of the issues which need more engagement with the government. 

"Pursuant to the IT Rules, we are working to implement operational processes and improve efficiencies. Facebook remains committed to people's ability to freely and safely express themselves on our platform," the spokesman said.

What the government wants social media giants to do

The new rules mandate Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to appoint a Chief Compliance Officer, a Nodal Contact Person and a Resident Grievance Officer, each of whom are to be employees residing in India. 

As per the guidelines, the social media firms must prominently publish on the website, mobile application or both the name and contact details of the grievance officer and the complaint mechanism. The grievance officer has to acknowledge a complaint within 24 hours and resolve it within 15 days. The officer also has to provide reasons to the complainant for any action or inaction.

The government, through the new rules, wants social media companies to deploy technology-based measures, including automated tools to identify information that depicts rape, child sexual abuse or conduct, or information that has previously been removed. The rules also require maintenance of appropriate human oversight and periodic review of such automated tools.

Social media firms are also required to publish a monthly report containing details of the complaints received, action taken, and the number of links or information removed or to which access is disabled, pursuant to any proactive monitoring by using automated tools or any other relevant information as may be specified.

This clause attains significance in the wake of the showdown between Twitter and the Information Technology ministry over the tagging of BJP national spokesperson Sambit Patra's posts on an alleged 'Congress toolkit' as 'Manipulated Media'.

What happens next?

The government can adopt a harsh view of the zero non-compliance by the social media firms and go ahead scrap their exemption from liabilities under section 79 of the Information Technology Act for any third-party information data etc., hosted by them. 

Some experts said though the platforms claim the protection of being an intermediary, they exercise their discretion to also modify and adjudicate upon the content through their own norms without any reference to the Indian Constitution and laws. 

The government may also give the social media platforms some more time to comply with the guidelines. At least five industry bodies, including the US-India Business Council and the Confederation of Indian Industry, have written to the government seeking a one-year compliance window.

The USIBC, in a letter to the government, noted that imposing criminal liability on the employees of an intermediary is at odds with modern corporate criminal liability jurisprudence, which is leaning towards replacing criminal liability with monetary penalties, in the interests of ease of doing business and better enforcement of laws.

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