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New Social Media Rules: Here’s what Facebook, WhatsApp have to say about compliance

WhatsApp has pleaded before the Delhi High Court to declare one of the new rules a violation of privacy rights as it requires social media companies to identify the first originator of information when authorities demand it.

May 26, 2021 / 12:05 PM IST
Several social media users were worried that Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other platforms might get banned in India from May 26, after some media reports suggested that it was a possibility. (Representational image)

Several social media users were worried that Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other platforms might get banned in India from May 26, after some media reports suggested that it was a possibility. (Representational image)

Tech giants are scrambling to comply with the Indian government's new rules for social media use, even as delay in implementing them has threatened to get the platforms banned in India.

On February 25, the Centre had introduced new rules regarding the use of social media and the regulation of streaming services, in an attempt to crack down on misinformation and have an oversight over social media platforms, their practices and what content over-the-top (OTT) platforms can publish, and for whom.

The new rules were brought in as The Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021.

The idea is to have major social media platforms develop redressal mechanism with "soft touch" oversight from the government, according to Union IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad. He added that the focus of the rules is to empower ordinary users of social media for whom fake news and financial fraud are one of the many big challenges.

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The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology had given a three-month deadline to the organisations to accept the guidelines by May 25.

Several social media users were worried that Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other platforms might get banned in India starting from May 26, after some media reports suggested it was a possibility. However, the apps and websites are still running and neither the companies nor the government have said the platforms will be blocked.

Major corporations such as Facebook, Google and Twitter have not yet complied with the guidelines yet.

Here's what the companies have had to say so far:

Facebook: Facebook has welcomed the guidelines and thanked the Union Minister for recognising the positive contributions of social media to the country.

A statement by Facebook's spokesperson read: "We have always been clear as a company that we welcome regulations that set guidelines for addressing today’s toughest challenges on the Internet. Facebook is committed to people’s ability to freely and safely express themselves on our platforms. The details of rules like these matter and we will carefully study the new rules that were just published."

The statement also reiterated the company's stance as India's ally and said they will continue to work to ensure that the platforms 'play an enabling role in fuelling the exciting digital transformation of India'.

WhatsApp: “Requiring messaging apps to “trace” chats is the equivalent of asking us to keep a fingerprint of every single message sent on WhatsApp, which would break end-to-end encryption and fundamentally undermines people’s right to privacy. We have consistently joined civil society and experts around the world in opposing requirements that would violate the privacy of our users. In the meantime, we will also continue to engage with the Government of India on practical solutions aimed at keeping people safe, including responding to valid legal requests for the information available to us," a spokesperson for WhatsApp said.

The instant messaging company has filed a legal complaint against the Centre seeking to block the new regulations that experts say would compel the California-based Facebook unit to break privacy protections.

According to the lawsuit, WhatsApp has pleaded Delhi High Court to declare that one of the new rules is a violation of privacy rights in India's Constitution as it requires social media companies to identify the "first originator of information" when authorities demand it.

While the law requires WhatsApp to unmask only people credibly accused of wrongdoing, the company says it cannot do that alone in practice. Because messages are end-to-end encrypted, to comply with the law WhatsApp says it would have break encryption for receivers, as well as "originators", of messages.

Also read | Twitter, Facebook getting banned in India from today? Here's all you need to know
Jocelyn Fernandes

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