Indian Government’s Deadline for Following New Regulations Ends For Social Media Firms

In February this year, the government of India came out with new regulations for the social media firms. This was done after it became increasingly clear that of late major social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp have introduced major changes in their policies and usage pattern that will likely compromise users’ privacy and safety of their data.

Subsequently, the government chalked out new regulations for the social media service providers if they wanted to continue their operations in India. They were given three months’ time to comply with these new regulations. However, the response of almost every social media channel was rather tepid because they essentially followed the law of their own countries that wasn’t acceptable to the government of India.

On 25th May, the government of India through their concerned department  asked social media firms to give an immediate update on what actions they have taken with its new IT rules. In fact, the popular messaging app Whatsapp approached Delhi High Court and legally challenged the new regulations. 

According to the guidelines of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, mentioned in a letter with the title “significant social media intermediaries” it defines social media firms as those with over 5 million registered users in India. Last week on Wednesday, it asked these firms to furnish names of their apps, websites or services that will come under the purview of these new IT rules and the status of their compliance.

It also asked the firms whether they have appointed chief compliance officer, nodal contact person and resident grievance officer. And in case they have, what are their names, contact numbers and their mailing addresses. The new rules that came into force in February this year required that firms should have a sufficient number of officials in India to address on-ground concerns.

The letter further implied that the government has no plan whatsoever to give extension on the deadline to social media firms, which expired on the 25th May, 2021 to comply with the new regulations. As a matter of fact, “The additional due diligence required from SSMI (significant social media intermediaries) have already come into effect after the conclusion of the additional three months given to SSMIs. Shortly after enacting the new IT rules in February, the government had duly notified social media firms to comply within the next three months.

The letter asked these firms that if they didn’t consider themselves as SSMI, they should provide the reasons for the same including the registered number of users on each of the services they provided. It warned firms that the government of India has the right to seek any additional information, permitted within these Rules and the IT Act.

But on May 26, WhatsApp decided to take legal action and challenged the Indian government to challenge its new rules that would allow authorities to track people’s private messages, and be vigilant.

For the last couple of months, tension has been continuously brewing between these technology giants and the Indian government. In the beginning of this year, Twitter, after being asked to block accounts that criticised the government and the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, didn’t oblige.

It was only last month, the Indian government asked Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to delete posts that were critical of PM Modi’s handling of the pandemic. Last week, the government of India objected to twitter’s labelling of some of ruling party politicians’ tweets as manipulated news. In fact, Delhi police officials went as far as serving a notice for an investigation into their Intel on classifying politicians’ tweets as misleading.

The New Delhi-based digital rights advocacy group Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF), in a statement said that big tech companies like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp and Google often make policies and decisions that are contrary to the general interest of millions of Indians, and we at IFF have been consistently advocating to public authorities for user–centric regulations that help address them.

It further added that the Intermediaries Rules have failed to address these outstanding issues that often suffer from inherent defects of procedural and substantive legality and end up harming user’s rights as well as the innovation that makes the internet so special and exciting. And In present time, more than ever before we need to follow a course that is led by experts and the tenets of the Indian constitution.

The current tug of war between the government of India and the leading social media channels is eagerly watched by the Indian social media channels like Helo, Connected India and Vero, which are essentially all made in India apps with exciting features. If the government of India goes ahead and bans these hugely popular channels from operating in India, it will give a much sought after window of opportunity to these homegrown channels to establish themselves and increase their users base.

The entire social media world is currently abuzz with all kinds of rumors’ and anticipation. There are a lot of people who support the government of India’s stance on this crucial issue. They think most of these foreign based social media channels work in a very arbitrary and dictatorial manner, and it’s a high time to put a break to their idiosyncrasies. 

However, there is a counter argument too from the activists who think that since these channels are refusing to sing on the government’s tune, these harsh regulations are being enforced. According to them, the government of India, by adopting a belligerent stance, has gone too far in this matter. They should have taken a more generous view of the whole affair, and instead of setting a deadline for these channels, they should have invited them for a talk to resolve the contentious issue. 

As far as the new regulations are concerned, all channels don’t seem to be on the same page. In fact, Whatsapp went as far as asking Indian court of law to intervene in the matter for a lasting solution. Twitter too appears to be in no mood to accept the diktat of government. According to them, the new rules will compromise the privacy of users which goes against their principles. 

Google and Facebook have sent feelers to the government saying they are ready to accept the new regulations. Maybe, they are avoiding confrontation as a part of a well thought out strategy, and looking for some middle ground. It will be interesting to see how things pan out in the next few weeks.

You may also like...