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)
Social media platforms are now required with the new Intermediary Guidelines, and the future remains uncertain for companies that are yet to comply with the Indian government's norms.
The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology had given a three-month deadline to the organisations to accept the guidelines by May 25. The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code Rules), 2021 was notified on February 25.
The social media platforms risk losing their status risk losing their status and protections as intermediaries, if they fail to comply with the guidelines.
Also read: Twitter, Facebook getting banned in India from today? Here's all you need to know
Facing critiques from all across over the new social media rules, Union Minister Shri Ravi Shankar Prasad has stated that “the Government of India is committed to ensure the Right of Privacy to all its citizens but at the same time it is also the responsibility of the government to maintain law and order and ensure national security.”
He assured that none of the measures proposed by India will impact the normal functioning of WhatsApp in any manner whatsoever and for the common users, there will be no impact.
Adding more, Prasad said, “The entire debate on whether encryption would be maintained or not is misplaced. Whether Right to Privacy is ensured through using encryption technology or some other technology is entirely the purview of the social media intermediary. The Government of India is committed to ensuring Right of Privacy to all its citizens as well as have the means and the information necessary to ensure public order and maintain national security. It is WhatsApp’s responsibility to find a technical solution, whether through encryption or otherwise, that both happen.”
Commenting on the latest social media rules row, Zoho founder and CEO Sridhar Vembu opined that social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube should operate according to the laws of the land and stop dictating terms.
He even compared these companies with the erstwhile East India Company that colonised India, warning that foreign- controlled platforms that are very dominant eventually have a life of their own and develop an agenda.
"These platforms are already doing censorship. Take the Covid issue when they censored all discussions related to its origins in the Wuhan lab. So for them to turn around and accuse the Indian government of something is just hypocritical. If they want to operate in our country, they have to operate according to our laws. They don't get to make laws here," Vembu told Moneycontrol in an interview.
Opposition Congress has attacked the ruling NDA government by calling it a reflection of the Modi government’s obsession with dictatorship and suppressing dissent. Congress leader Abhishek Singhvi even compared the new rules with that of North Korea.
Congress leader Abhishek Singhvi said, "The issuance of the new intermediary guidelines is a reflection of the Modi government’s obsession with dictatorship and suppressing dissent. The BJP government is suffering from Big Daddy syndrome which is a control freak syndrome. These guidelines are against India’s culture of discourse, deliberation, and dissent. The Modi government is strangulating our culture.”
Meanwhile, experts opine that while the impact of this is not immediate, the situation will play out in Indian courts till the time the government and tech companies come to a compromise.
Sanjay Hegde, Senior Advocate, Supreme Court, said, “Social media companies are intermediaries and should be protected. That should happen as long as they follow the law of the land and take down content when asked by law enforcement agencies.”
Explaining more, Hedge said, "Now the question is whose perception of the law is to prevail. The companies say they will take down the content when there is a court order. Also, they will block it in India but will keep it in the rest of the world. The government seems to think it can unilaterally order the companies and that should be sufficient."
Several social media users were worried about that Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other platforms might be banned in India starting from May 26, after media reports suggested that 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, Twitter have not yet complied with the guidelines.
Indian microblogging platform Koo has appointed Rahul Satyakam as the resident grievance officer, Moneycontrol reported on May 25.Also read: New Social Media Rules: Here’s what Facebook, WhatsApp have to say about compliance
"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. 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," a Facebook spokesperson said.
The new rules platforms to trace the "first originator" of a piece of content when demanded by law enforcement authorities. This means that messaging services such as Facebook-owned WhatsApp will have to break end-to-end encryption of messages.
"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," a WhatsApp spokesperson said.
Media report suggest that WhatsApp has challenged the rules in the Delhi High Court.
"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," the spokesperson added.
Also read: The new internet, social media rules: All the key things you need to know
Here are some aspects of the new guidelines:
> Significant social media firms (the definition of significant will be clarified soon) have to appoint a chief compliance officer and have a nodal contact person who can be in touch with law enforcement agencies 24/7.
> Social media firms should not host or store, and must take down content prohibited in the context of India’s sovereignty, integrity, defamation and incitement to offence.
> If some content is deemed offensive by a court or government, social media firms have to pull it out within 36 hours; 24, if it is sexually offensive content.