Explained: Why Social Media Behemoths Are Set To Lose 'Intermediary Protection' If They Don't Comply With New IT Rules

Explained: Why Social Media Behemoths Are Set To Lose 'Intermediary Protection' If They Don't Comply With New IT Rules Mark Zuckerberg caricature (Flickr)
Snapshot
  • The guidelines released in February this year by the Government of India designate social media companies with more than 50 lakh users as ‘significant' social media intermediaries.

The recalcitrant attitude of the social media giants may cost them dearly as the deadline to comply with the new Information Technology (IT) rules released in February approaches.

Companies like Facebook, Twitter, etc. are expected to comply by the rules by Wednesday (26 May). Reportedly, three months later, the companies are yet to comply.

The guidelines released in February this year designate social media companies with more than 50 lakh users as ‘significant' social media intermediaries.

Such companies are required to appoint a resident grievance officer, a chief compliance officer, and a nodal contact person, and publish their details on the website of the company.

The rules further require the companies to submit a monthly report on the number of grievances filed against the content on their platform or their policy, and what was there status in terms of resolution.

Reportedly, so far, that requirement too, has not been complied with.

In India, Section 79 of the IT Act gives social media companies the ‘intermediary protection’, that is, as intermediaries, they are immune from any legal prosecution for content posted on their platforms by users.

However, recent times have seen a rise in crimes using social media, for example, posting of hate speeches, solicitation for terror activities, etc. In the current scenario, the government has to direct the social media company to take down such posts.

There have been complaints in the past that social media giants didn’t take down such posts expeditiously enough or abused their power to favour particular groups.

Hence, the new rules required these companies to appoint a designated person to deal with such complaints and directions of the government.

The social media giants, most of them headquartered in United States, have said that they would have to check with their headquarters in the United States before appointing executives in these positions. The Ministry of Information Technology has taken strong exception to this stance.

“In most cases, the reply we got from these intermediaries was that they were awaiting instructions from their headquarters in the US. How is it fair that when they do business in India and earn revenue from data of India users, the teams sitting in the US can make an ex parte assessment of the situation? Grievances cannot wait redressal from the US,” Indian Express quoted its government source as saying.

“Someone is being defamed, someone is being abused on these platforms, and there is no liability. People who are victims have suffered because they do not know who to approach in absence of any public information,” another source was quoted as saying.

Not just in India, but globally, demands have been rising for more transparent functioning of the social media giants since they have come to wield enormous power.

Regulators around the world are seeking to curtail the market power of Big Tech. Companies like Facebook and Google have secured an almost monopoly over digital advertising in online search and social networking. Given their immense revenues and power, the social media giants don’t seem to mind undermining democratically elected national governments.

A decision as big as suspending the account of a sitting US president with millions of followers was taken by these companies in a matter of hours.

World wide, the experts have been demanding more control on the social media companies - some form of government oversight over functions significant for democracy.

André Loesekrug-Pietri suggests having trained judges or some other politically independent official agency to uphold or impose such bans.

As per government data, India has 53 crore WhatsApp users, 44.8 crore YouTube users, 41 crore Facebook users, 21 crore Instagram users, and 1.75 crore Twitter users (as of February 2021).

All these companies are set to loose the aforementioned intermediary privilege granted by Section 79 of the IT Act if they fail to comply with the guidelines.

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