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Amid Twitter tussle, next up: deadline by govt to it, Facebook, to appoint officers

Guidelines issued in February required all significant social media intermediaries to designate executives for these roles by May 26. Social media companies that have more than 50 lakh users in India are designated ‘significant’ social media intermediaries.

Written by Aashish Aryan | New Delhi |
Updated: May 25, 2021 8:11:11 am
Amid Twitter tussle, next up: deadline by govt to it, Facebook, to appoint officersShould the companies fail to comply over the next two days, they could lose protection accorded to them under section 79 of the Information Technology Act, sources said.

Just two days from deadline, social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are yet to appoint a resident grievance officer, a chief compliance officer, and a nodal contact person as required by the government, sources have told The Indian Express.

Guidelines issued in February required all significant social media intermediaries to designate executives for these roles by May 26. Social media companies that have more than 50 lakh users in India are designated ‘significant’ social media intermediaries.

Should the companies fail to comply over the next two days, they could lose protection accorded to them under section 79 of the Information Technology Act, sources said.

“They will then be criminally liable if any untoward incident happens or some unlawful and illegal content is shared over their platform,” a source in the IT Ministry said, asking not to be named.

Section 79 gives social media intermediaries immunity from legal prosecution for content posted on their platforms.

Facebook and Instagram did not respond to emails asking why they had so far not appointed executives in these roles, and whether they planned to do so soon.

Twitter said it had no comments for now.

The IT Ministry is also learnt to have taken strong exception to the intermediaries’ stand that they would have to check with their headquarters in the United States before appointing executives in these positions.

Explained

Potential flashpoint

Since January, the government has repeatedly pulled up social media companies for “double standards” in dealing with India. It is unlikely these companies will stop services in India; but they could face even greater scrutiny if friction increases.

“In most cases, the reply we got from these intermediaries was that they were awaiting instructions from their headquarters in the US. How is it fair that when they do business in India and earn revenue from data of India users, the teams sitting in the US can make an ex parte assessment of the situation? Grievances cannot wait redressal from the US,” the source said.

On February 25, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) notified new guidelines for significant social media intermediaries, mandating that all platforms that have more than 50 lakh users in India would have to appoint within three months, a resident grievance officer, a chief compliance officer, and a nodal contact person, and publish their details on the website of the company.

Some significant social media intermediaries had sought up to six months from February 25 to finalise executives for these roles, but the Ministry had rejected the request and asked them to “strictly adhere” to the guidelines, sources said.

“Why should the appointment of just three people take more than three months? It is a result of the lacklustre attitude that they have for Indian markets,” a senior Ministry official said.

In the February 25 rules, the Ministry had also asked all significant social media intermediaries to submit a monthly report on the number of grievances filed against the content on their platform or their policy, how many were taken up, and the status of the rest. That requirement too, has not been complied with so far, the sources said.

“Someone is being defamed, someone is being abused on these platforms, and there is no liability. People who are victims have suffered because they do not know who to approach in absence of any public information,” another source said.

The IT Ministry has also sent a fresh communication to Twitter, asking it to disclose the names of its “fact-checkers”, how they are selected, and what is their “standing”, sources said.

Two days ago, the Ministry had written to the micro-blogging platform asking it to remove the “manipulated media” tag from some of the tweets sent by political leaders in reference to a “toolkit” created allegedly to “undermine, derail and demean” the government’s efforts against the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Ministry had said that such tagging by Twitter appeared prejudged, prejudiced and a deliberate attempt to colour the investigation by local law enforcement agencies.

“This action not only dilutes the credibility of Twitter as a neutral and unbiased platform facilitating exchange of views by the users but also puts a question mark on the status of Twitter as an intermediary,” the Ministry had said in the letter.

Twitter had declined to comment on the Ministry’s letter.

As of February 2021, India had 530 million WhatsApp users, 448 million YouTube users, 410 million Facebook users, 210 million Instagram users, and 17.5 million Twitter users, according to latest data from the IT Ministry.

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