Facebook, Instagram and other social media may face criminal action in India

Facebook ban

Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and many other social media platforms may soon be banned in India. There are chances of them facing criminal action in India as they are yet to comply with the norms of the new Intermediary Rules. The new rules by the government were passed in February. Special provisions for “significant social media intermediaries” that have more than 50 lakh registered users are set to come into effect from May 26th, 2021,Wednesday. With these new provisions the key social media platforms are required to appoint at least three officers for grievance redressal. They are to follow a specific code of conduct that has been criticised over violating the principles of free speech.

People familiar with the matter have told that several social media sites including TwitterFacebook, and Instagram have not yet complied with the new Intermediary Rules. Facebook is believed to be in discussion with the government on some of the issues.

Response from the Facebook and others

“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,;” the spokesperson said in a prepared statement. “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, there has not yet been any response from Twitter and Google yet.

The new law

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) and Ministry of Information and Broadcasting jointly introduced the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 on February 25 to put restrictions on digital platforms. The rules carried a window of three months for significant social media companies to comply with the special provisions. That window is closing on Tuesday.

The requirements

The special provisions, which are put together under “additional due diligence” in the rules, require social media platforms with more than 50 lakh registered users to appoint a specific chief compliance officer for ensuring compliance with the Information Technology Act, 2000 and the Intermediaries Rules, a nodal contact person to round-the-clock coordinate with law enforcement agencies, and a resident grievance officer to acknowledge grievances within 24 hours and respond them within 15 days. All three of these officers are required to be Indian residents.

In addition to the three-officer requirement, the social media platforms are required to have a physical contact address in India. The contact details of these appointed officers must be shown on their websites and apps.

The government has stated that the platforms “shall not be required to disclose the contents of any message or any other information to the first originator.” However, it could demand for the message circulated by the originator. It could also gain access to the content by using the Information Technology Decryption Rules.

The new provisions also require social media platforms to have automated tools such as artificial intelligence (AI). These tools should be used to remove objectionable content. Some technology lawyers, however, believe that the platforms could ultimately be driven to use such tools for public surveillance.

Some social media platforms requested the government to extend the timeline for the provisions. Industry bodies including Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI) also asked for an extension of one year for the compliance window. The government, however, did not announce any changes to what it brought in February.

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