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Thursday, July 29, 2021

Explained: What the loss of safe harbour means for Twitter

In a series of tweets on Wednesday, the Minister for Law & Justice, Communications, Electronics and Information Technology Ravi Shankar Prasad flogged Twitter for having “deliberately chosen the path of non-compliance”.

Written by Aashish Aryan , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: June 21, 2021 11:56:35 am
Twitter India IT Act GovernmentIn this April 26, 2017, file photo is a Twitter app icon on a mobile phone. (AP)

Micro-blogging platform Twitter is facing fresh heat from the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) for failing to adhere to norms while appointing executives in the roles of Resident Grievance Officer, Nodal Officer and Chief Compliance Officer.

This, according to the government, means that the protection under Section 79 of the Information Technology (IT) Act, accorded to Twitter for being a social media intermediary, now stands withdrawn.

What is the protection accorded to intermediaries under Section 79 of IT Act?

Section 79 says that any intermediary shall not be held legally or otherwise liable for any third party information, data, or communication link made available or hosted on its platform.

This protection, the Act says, shall be applicable if the said intermediary does not in any way initiate the transmission of the message in question, select the receiver of the transmitted message, and does not modify any information contained in the transmission.

This means that as long as a platform acts just as the messenger carrying a message from point A to point B, without interfering with its content in any manner, it will be safe from any legal prosecution brought upon due to the message being transmitted.

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And what is the central government’s complaint?

In a series of tweets on Wednesday, the Minister for Law & Justice, Communications, Electronics and Information Technology Ravi Shankar Prasad flogged Twitter for having “deliberately chosen the path of non-compliance”.

“It is astounding that Twitter which portrays itself as the flag bearer of free speech, chooses the path of deliberate defiance when it comes to the Intermediary Guidelines. Further, what is perplexing is that Twitter fails to address the grievances of users by refusing to set up process as mandated by the law of the land. Additionally, it chooses a policy of flagging manipulates media, only when it suits, its likes and dislikes,” Prasad posted.

How does this impact Twitter, then?

In the short run, since the protection accorded to Twitter under Section 79 of the IT Act is now gone, it opens up the platform to the possibility of any and all penal action that is likely to be taken against it as a publisher of content.

This means that if someone puts out any content on Twitter that leads to some form of violence, or violates any Indian law with respect to content, not only the person that has put out the tweet will be held responsible, even Twitter will be legally liable for the content as it no longer has the protection.

Is there something else that can happen subsequently?

In the longer run, there is also the theoretical possibility that Twitter might be subjected to the 26 per cent cap of direct foreign investment in media and publishing, which in turn means that the platform may be forced to look for an Indian buyer for the remaining 74 per cent stake.

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