In what appears to be early signs of a thaw in relations after an extended public slugfest, senior executives from social media intermediaries such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google, are scheduled to meet officials from the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) no sooner the Monsoon session of Parliament ends on August 13.
According to sources in the know of the development, social media intermediaries are likely to highlight a lack of an SOP (standard operating procedure) on the newly enacted Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code, better known as the IT Rules of 2021.
The intermediaries are also likely to list out the operational issues they faced since May 26, with respect to the new rules. They also plan to seek greater clarity on certain aspects such as monthly reports.
The meetings come after multiple exchanges of notices and letters between the IT ministry and the intermediaries will be the first official interaction between the new IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw and senior executives of the social media companies.
The spat began in January when Twitter refused to fully comply with the IT ministry orders asking the platform to limit access to certain content in India. Over the next five months, appointment of executives in the role of a chief compliance officer, a resident grievance officer and a nodal contact person or the requirement of tracking the first originator of a message on instant messaging platforms, kept the ministry and intermediaries on either side of a public spat.
Things, however, seem to have calmed down since Vaishnaw took charge, ministry officials said, indicating that the fresh mandate now was to find solutions towards ensuring compliance rather than sending “angry notices”.
Sources said that though some of the intermediaries are yet to fully comply with the guidelines mentioned in the IT Rules, there are no warnings to comply immediately or face action.
“The intent of the government was to ensure that these intermediaries remained accountable to Indian law and systems, to the users in India. We have gone through a big pandemic period and everything was abnormal during the three months given to the intermediaries to make appointments. They did what they could, so the practical approach would be to look to work together now,” a senior official from the IT ministry said.
Senior executives working with social media intermediaries also confirmed things had indeed cooled down over the last fortnight. “Our intent was always to comply with the guidelines. But whenever any new rules or law comes in, there will always be some operational and logistical issues. More than three-fourth of our India team was down with Covid during March-June this year. We had no option but to push everything back,” an executive with one of the social media intermediaries said, asking not to be named.
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