New Delhi: Social media firms are not being shut down on 26 May over compliance issues to do with the government’s new information technology rules, a senior government official has told ThePrint.
News of the deadline for complying with the rules ending Tuesday left social media users wondering if their platform of choice would still be available to them. Twitter saw trending hashtags such as ‘#banned‘, while news reports with the question ‘Will Twitter & Facebook Shut Down?’ did the rounds.
The government had on 25 February published the revised intermediary guidelines, called ‘Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021’, and gave companies three months to comply with it.
An intermediary is a middleman offering a platform where a user can publish content for consumption by other users, such as Facebook and Twitter.
Among the new rules is the appointing of a chief compliance Officer, a nodal contact person, and a resident grievance officer by “significant” social media intermediaries.
However, none of the social media firms appear to have appointed these officers as yet.
“If there was a grievance officer appointed it should have been mentioned on their [the social media firm’s] site. So we don’t know,” the senior official told ThePrint. However, the official added that companies have, so far, not been required to inform the IT ministry about these appointments, and as such, it is unlikely the social media firms would have said anything before the deadline.
So what happens now?
“If you use Facebook, continue to use Facebook,” the official said, adding that these companies will not be shut down in case they’ve missed the deadline.
Compliance with the new rules will be a challenge for firms given the large user base in the country.
For instance, a grievance officer receiving a complaint of sexual and nude images will have to physically verify the images and have it removed within 24 hours.
A ‘significant’ social media intermediary is one with over 50 lakh registered users in India, such as Twitter (1.75 crore), Facebook (41 crore), and even YouTube (44.8 crore), which is a subsidiary of Google.
Meanwhile, a Reuters report Wednesday stated that the messaging platform WhatsApp, owned by Facebook, has legally challenged another aspect of the new rules that require breaking users’ privacy protection.
The government official quoted above said the IT ministry may or may not talk to these companies about compliance, now that the deadline has ended.
ThePrint emailed Twitter, Facebook and Google for a comment about whether it had appointed the mandated officers.
An email from Twitter stated: “We’ve nothing further to share at this time”.
An email received from Facebook’s spokesperson 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.”
However, a PTI report, citing sources, said Facebook has put in place provisions around voluntary verification, 24-hour timeline to remove content flagged for nudity, etc., and setting up a process and time-bound grievance redressal mechanism.
An email from Google’s spokesperson said, “We respect India’s legislative process and have a long history of responding to government requests to remove content where the content violates the local law or our product policies.
“We have consistently invested in significant product changes, resources, and personnel to ensure that we’re combating illegal content in an effective and fair way, and in order to comply with local laws in the jurisdictions that we operate in. We realize that our work in keeping our platforms secure is never done and we will continue to refine our existing approaches, and evolve our policies and be as transparent as possible about how we make decisions.”
(Edited by Manasa Mohan)