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What social media giants stand to lose, and why you should be worried

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With just a few hours remaining for social media platforms- Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter – for complying with the government’s new Information Technology Rules, 2021 or risk losing their ‘intermediary’ status, there are apprehensions regarding the potential operability of these platforms in India from here on. The new rules come into effect on May 26.

Significant social media intermediaries were given three months to comply with India’s new Information Technology (IT) rules that were notified in February.

This can have serious ramifications, including the loss of legal immunity. Simply put, anyone who is unhappy with content posted on these platforms can take both the person who posts the content, and the social media company to court. The social media platforms, however, can continue to operate in the country.

While the government calls the new rules transparent and those needed to increase accountability, social media platforms have resisted the changes quoting the need for “free speech” and “fair communication”.

Who can be termed as an ‘intermediary ‘ under the new rule?

Under part four of the amended IT Rules, significant social media intermediaries are required to appoint a compliance officer, “responsible for ensuring compliance with the Act and rules” and be “liable in any proceedings relating to any relevant third-party information, data or communication link made available or hosted by that intermediary where he fails to ensure that such intermediary observes due diligence while discharging its duties under the Act”.

Social media companies will have to take down posts depicting nudity or morphed photos within 24 hours of receiving a complaint.

What is a significant social media intermediary and benefits obtained under it?

– Social media companies with more than 50 lakh registered users will be considered ‘significant social media intermediaries’, as per the new norms under the Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code of 2021.

– Previously, intermediaries were not required to disclose the contents of any message or any other information to the first originator.

What if they lose their immunity?

– If they lose their immunity as intermediaries, they will be equally responsible for any unlawful content (for example obscene pictures or impersonation) as the person posting such content under the Indian Penal Code.

– The loss of intermediary status would mean every user post on these platforms would be considered as being published by the companies, making them criminally liable for any content deemed illegal.

– As a publisher, platforms will have to proactively censor content before they appear online – like China’s internet.

New IT Rules, Regulations to be followed by social media platforms

1. Appoint a Chief Compliance Officer who shall be responsible for ensuring compliance with the Act and Rules. Such a person should be a resident in India.

2. Appoint a Nodal Contact Person for 24×7 coordination with law enforcement agencies. Such a person shall be a resident in India.

3. Appoint a Resident Grievance Officer who shall perform the functions mentioned under Grievance Redressal Mechanism. Such a person shall be a resident in India.

4. Publish a monthly compliance report mentioning the details of complaints received and action taken on the complaints as well as details of contents removed proactively by the significant social media intermediary.

However, the platforms are continuing to negotiate and are seeking six months time to comply with the new rules. Barring homegrown social media app Koo, none of the players, including Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram has complied with the new regulations.

The government also clarified that no new provisions had been made to give the Information and Broadcasting Ministry Secretary any fresh “emergency blocking powers”.

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