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KEYTAKEAWAYS

  • The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITy) had given a three-month time to the social platforms to comply with the new IT rules in February 2021.
  • The deadline set by the Government to accept the new guidelines will end on May 25, 2021.
  • So far none of the social media platforms have complied with the new rules.
  • Given this, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram may face a blockage on May 26 if they do not obey the new intermediary rules.
  • The US-based companies had asked for six months as they were waiting for an answer from the US headquarters.
  • On February 25, the Central Government had announced some strict protocols for the social media platforms asking them remove any content marked by authorities within 36 hours and had asked them to set up a strong complaint redressal mechanism with an officer being based in the country.
  • Some of these rules are not only applicable to OTT platforms as well.

INTRODUCTION

Top official sources suggest that the social media giants may face a bar in India from May 26 if they fail to comply with the new guidelines put forth by Indian Government for social media platforms. The Ministry of Media had given a three month deadline to these giants by May 25 but none of them, except Koo, the Indian version of twitter have accepted the guidelines. Despite these companies seeking a six-month delay for the compliance, these rules will be effective from May 26, 2021. So now the main question that arises is, will the social media platforms, which have now become the part and parcel of everyone’s life will really be banned in India if they fail to comply with the new rules? Keep on reading to find out!

WHY THE BAN

When asked whether Facebook will comply with the rules or not, a company spokesperson revealed in his statement that, “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.” It was apprehended by a government official that if the social media companies do not comply with the new rules by May 25, they will lose their standing and securities as intermediaries and criminal action can be taken against them as per the laws of India. Hence it is a very decisive moment for these social media companies. The US-based companies had asked for six months as they were waiting for an answer from the US headquarters.

Till date, only Koo, the Indian version of twitter having 6 Million users, has complied with the new rules. Facebook having 410 users, Twitter 17.5 Million users, Instagram 210 Million users and WhatsApp having 530 Million users are yet to comply with the new regulations. As mentioned earlier, if these social media platforms fail to comply with the new regulations, they may lose their standing as intermediaries which protects them from liabilities from any third party information and data it hosts, and action can be taken against them as per Indian laws. However, this does not necessarily mean that users in India won’t be able to access these platforms.

According to digital rights activist and MediaNama founder Nikhil Pahwa, it seems unlikely that the Government would enforce the provisions and hold the social media platforms accountable unless absolutely necessary as the platforms could move to court to challenge these guidelines. The Government would not want to give the platforms a reason to go to Court and challenge these guidelines as “unconstitutional”. The Centre was supposed to issue a set of FAQs to explain these guidelines but those have not been released yet so it is likely that there might be an extension of deadline to give MEITy more time to figure out the nuances. He also added that these rules were already being challenged on such grounds. Pahwa also said that there’s no chance that the government will block the US based platforms because of the power that the US Government has.

As of now, WhatsApp has filed a complaint against the Government of India in Delhi High Court but has also said that it will continue to work on practical solutions.

WHAT ARE THESE GUIDELINES

On February 25, the Central Government had announced some strict protocols for the social media platforms asking them remove any content marked by authorities within 36 hours and had asked them to set up a strong complaint redressal mechanism with an officer being based in the country. The social media companies are required to have a physical address India published on its website or mobile app or both. The Government had said that the new rules will be brought into effect immediately and the social media giants will get a three month deadline before they start complying with the new rules.

According to the Government, the social media companies will also have to submit a monthly compliance report disclosing the grievances received along with the actions taken and also the details of the content removed. The platforms will have to take down posts depicting nudity or morphed photos within 24 hours of receiving a complaint.

The social media companies primarily providing service in the nature of messaging are required to enable the identification of the “first originator” of the information in case that message undermines the sovereignty of India and security of the State. However, the company is not required to disclose the content of that particular message.

Users who willingly want to verify their account should be given a relevant mechanism to do so and be accorded a visible mark of verification.

The companies are required to give an explanation and intimation to the users as to why their content has been taken down.

Some of these rules are not only applicable to OTT platforms as well. Platforms including Netflix, Amazon Prime, and others will have to appoint a Grievance Redressal Officer based in India who will take care of the grievances and act on them in 15 days.

Here’s what the companies have to say

Facebook: Facebook, which also owns Instagram has revealed that it is working on implementing the rules. It is also discussing some issues with the government. However, it has brought in the requirements of voluntary verification, complaint redressal and 24 hour timeline to remove flagged content.

Google: A Google Official has said that the company is working efficiently to fight off illegal content. It is also working to comply with local laws.

Twitter has not yet commented on their status of complying with the new rules.

Supreme Court’s view on the new guidelines

After perusing the new set of rules put forth by the Central government regarding social media and OTT platforms the Top Court held that these rules may not prove to be effective as they lack penal provisions and have “No teeth” and asked the government to consider framing more stringent regulations. This observation came from Hon’ble Justices Ashok Bhushan and R. Subhash Reddy while hearing an anticipatory bail plea of Amazon Prime India head Aparna Purohit in the Tandav case. The Solicitor General Tushar Mehta agreed with the observation of the Court and said that the government must come up with the draft of a law on the suggestions given by the court and it will be placed before the bench for authorization. The plea for anticipatory bail by Purohit was allowed under the condition that she will cooperate with the police in ongoing investigations against her and others for hurting religious sentimentalities.

Conclusion

When we come across news such as this one, we immediately get to thinking what will it be like without social media? Social media has become a part and parcel of our lives. Some people think that social media has a negative impact on people while some think it’s a boon. India contributes with a huge user base to these social media companies with WhatsApp having 53 Crore users, 44.8 Crore YouTube users, 41 Crore Facebook users, 21 Crore Instagram Users and 1.75 Crore using Twitter. Imposing a ban on social media might cause an up rage among the Netizens. Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram has gained a lot of popularity and a huge user base. Till now, we know that we might face a blockage on social media apps if they do not comply with the guidelines laid down by the Central Government. However, it seems likely that the Government might amend these rules. Companies that have complied with the new rules will be working without any Government hindrance while those who haven’t may face some issues. However, it should be noted that the social media platforms are working just fine as of today.


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