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Ban on Social Media! And It’s not your Mom saying that; this time, it is the Government of India

by Adarsh Modi

Ban on Social Media! And It’s not your Mom saying that; this time, it is the Government of India

May 25, 2021

Will the social media giants such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram immediately cease to exist post-25th May 2021? Potentially yes, but the answer is a bit more nuanced.

The Union Government of the Republic Of India brought into effect the new IT rules that these companies would have to comply with. They were given a three-month deadline which ends on May 25, 2021.  Suppose the companies fail to comply with these new rules post this date. In that case, they will end up losing the intermediary status that grants them immunity from any liability of third party information and data they host.  

So far, none of the concerned parties, Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, have complied with the rules to their full extent.  Koo, on the other hand, the new Indian microblogging site has fully yielded to the IT rules. Facebook, in a statement, said, “We aim 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.”  Meaning that they are open to the new IT rules and also to further discussions with the GoI. 

While it was only yesterday that the offices of Twitter were raided by a particular cell of the Delhi Police regarding the “Manipulated Media” tag on the prominent BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra and the entire “Toolkit fiasco”, they so far have not released any statement on the matter.

 
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Ban or No Ban?

So? Will the platforms be banned as warned by the Government post-deadline? An expert thinks – not. Nikhil Pahwa, the head of Medianama, said in an interview, “I don’t think it is likely that they will get banned anytime soon because the laws are such that they are typically implemented arbitrarily. For example, the official deadline for OTT streaming services to be in compliance with the rules was February 25, when the rules were formally issued and notified. But even as of last week, many of the OTT streaming companies were not in compliance. They hadn’t set up these processes and rules. Ideally, from what it seems, there hasn’t been sufficient time given for companies to comply with the rules, and they should have been given more time, and they should probably be given an extension. Unless the Government decides to do something, nothing will happen,”

While another expert thinks otherwise, Nadika Nadja of HasGeek believes that non-compliance with these rules could land the platforms in serious trouble. According to the new regulations, non-compliance could leave the Chief Compliance office criminally liable if the company has appointed one. If not, they could be forced to shut down their operations in the country. 

Essentially the platforms could not be considered responsible until now for what their users posted and expressed, but upon non-compliance, their safe harbor will be removed, and they would be just as criminally liable as any third party if it comes down to the courts. 

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The Growing Intermediaries

The Government released a data set which says that Facebook has 41 crore users in the country, WhatsApp has 53 crore users, Instagram has 21 crores,  YouTube has 44.8 crore subscribers, and Twitter has 1.75 crore users in the country. According to the Government, the new IT rules were formed to make these platforms more responsible for their host content. The companies have requested the Government to extend the compliance deadline. While the social media companies have not approached the judiciary yet, several digital news organizations have. The Wire, The Quint, LiveLaw and The News Minute are some digital news outlets that have filed petitions in various courts. 

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The IT Rules 2021

The Information Technology Rules 2021 (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) aims to bring social media platforms and digital news platforms under a three-tiered regulatory structure. 

The guidelines compel the above-mentioned platforms to appoint a Chief Compliance Officer, a Resident Grievance Officer and a Nodal Contact Person for 24*7 liaison with law enforcement agencies. It also compels them to publish monthly compliance reports with all grievances and their resolutions. 

The platforms could be asked to track a message or post’s originator by the Government or the courts, which could impede the user’s privacy. Posts with nudity and morphed photos will have to be taken down within 24 hours of complaint. 

It also instructs mechanisms to make way for voluntary verifications. And if a user’s account is being disbanded and their posts and information are being taken down, there should be prior intimation and a proper channel and chance to dispute the action. 

These are the rules that the intermediaries have to comply with in order to conduct their business in the country. What are your thoughts about it? Draconian or Called For? Comment below. 

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