The Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology (MEITy) of India announced ‘The new Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021’, aka ‘the new IT Rules 2021’ earlier this year on 25 February. The new rules took effect immediately, while ‘significant social media providers’ (platforms with over 5 million users) like Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, and Instagram got three months before they had to start complying.
On May 25th, when the deadline ended, none of the major US-based companies have complied with the new policies, which gave the rise to clickbait headlines of social media bans in India. Only the local Indian platform Koo (similar to Twitter) has so far complied with the new regulations.
What will happen if social media platforms don’t comply?
Failing to follow the regulation won’t end in a ban like many ‘hot’ headlines have suggested, but it will result in loss of intermediary status and legal protection, which offered them immunity against liability for posts made on their networks, third party information or data. The new policies and tighter regulations require social media firms to remove any content flagged by authorities within 36 hours, and offering traceability to origin of information. And follow additional due diligence such as setting up a vigorous complaint redress mechanism, including appointment of a chief compliance officer, nodal contact person and resident grievance officer.
They will also have to publish a monthly compliance report disclosing details of complaints received and action taken, as also details of contents removed proactively, plus, be required to have a physical contact address in India published on its website or mobile app, or both. This simply means, as per the law and order in India, global social media giants like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter could be legally liable for non-compliance, and the Indian government can take criminal action on any content deemed illegal on such platforms.
WhatsApp has filed a lawsuit in the Delhi High Court on Tuesday evening, seeks declaring the rule requiring the message service provider to identify the first originator of any message flagged as a violation of privacy rights provided by the constitution. US based companies like Facebook have asked for 6-month extension to comply with the new rules. A Facebook spokesperson said that their aim is to comply with the new IT regulations and policies, but they need more support from the Indian government.
A Google spokesperson said the company has consistently invested in significant product changes, resources and personnel to ensure that it is combating illegal content in an effective and fair way, and to comply with local laws in the jurisdictions it operates in. Twitter hasn’t commented, rather than their February compliance of removing 1000+ handles flagged by the Indian Government.
Local Indian Twitter alternative Koo, however, has complied with new IT rules. The rules will be effective despite global companies seeking for a delay in the implementation. Some say it’s a first step towards enabling a filtering mechanism for speech on the internet in India, like in China. Local reporters are already concerned that these rules are a threat to right of speech in democracy in India.
But even beyond that, taking legal and criminal action towards global social media platforms could affect India’s socio-economic status, dealing massive disservice to India’s reputation with such strained relationships with global tech giants. On the other hand, if the rules are not complied soon enough, the social media firms are facing a real threat of losing their massive Indian clientele.