Prominent social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook could face a ban should they not be able to comply with government guidelines. Both platforms could lose their protection as intermediaries and status as social media platforms and are liable to criminal prosecution in accordance. Yesterday, was the last day to accept the guidelines but as yet neither international platforms (Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram, and Facebook) have complied with the new regulations, as per news reports. Koo, an Indian social media platform that is similar to Twitter is the only one that has met compliance prior to the deadline. Since they were waiting for a response from their international headquarters, some of the US-based social platforms had asked for six-months-time to meet compliance.
In a news report, a spokesperson from Facebook stated that the social media giant needs to discuss a few issues that would require holding discussions with the government and intends to meet compliance with the IT rules and provisions. They are working on improving efficiencies and implementing operational processes in line with the IT rules. The company also offered assurance about being committed to the freedom and safety of expression by people on their platform.
New Digital Ethics Code
The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITy) had given the social media platforms three-months-time in February 2021 to comply with the new IT rules: Following additional due diligence, appointment of a resident grievance officer, nodal contact person, and a chief compliance officer. The purpose of these rules is to make these social media platforms more accountable. The rules will facilitate a supervisory mechanism for these platforms with a committee that has members from Development of Women and Children, Foreign Affairs, Home, Defense, I&B, Law, and Information Technology.
An article by Firstpost highlights that the government’s purpose of the new digital ethics code is to build a level playing field with a soft touch institutional mechanism that they deem as being progressive. Ravi Shankar Prasad, the Union IT and Communications Minister, asserts that restricting the inappropriate use of streaming services and social media platforms is the reason why the guidelines for intermediaries and ethics code for digital media were established. Some of these guidelines include the removal of content that depicts nudity or morphed pictures within a period of 24 hours.
A specific portal to address grievances stemming from digital media or OTT platforms content complaints shall be created by the Centre. This complaint will be forward to the concerned entity who will aid in facilitating a resolution, as per established guidelines. As highlighted earlier, the supervisory mechanism established by the government can act on its own accord to call hearings on any Code of Ethics violations. A Joint Secretary, who is a designated officer of rank by the government, will act as an authorised officer to direct the blocking of specific content.
Social media giants are required to comply with the government established IT rules, according to industry experts. Being that these platforms are an integral part of digital, the government can choose to espouse a more balance approach as taking these platforms off may not be the answer. Especially since platforms like Twitter have acted as a SOS helpline for stricken individuals or groups during the pandemic. On the other hand, Facebook is acting as an expensive digital platform for small and medium business that seek to increase their prospects. Many of these social media platforms are not only helping in a hour of crisis but are also enabling businesses to maintain continuity when mobility is restricted. Many of these platforms already have well-established guidelines for content that are accepted in most countries.
According to government statistics, India has 53 million WhatsApp users, 44.8 million YouTube subscribers, 41 million Facebook subscribers, 21 million Instagram users, and 1.75 million Twitter users.