Almost three months on from the most definitive social media guidelines it has put out so far, the Centre has issued warning to significant social media companies like Twitter, to ensure compliance with the new rules notified by the Union Government on February 25 earlier this year, sources said. The Ministry of Electronics and IT had given all social media companies three months to fall in line with the Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code Rules, the deadline of which is due on May 25, i.e. on Tuesday. As per sources, the Centre, in its communication to the market leaders, had warned that failure to comply with the rules laid down would lead to the companies losing their status and protection as Intermediaries and may also render liable for criminal action as per the existing laws of India.
Except for Koo, major social media companies yet to comply?
The compliance order issued on February 25 by the Ministry of Electronics and IT required all social media giants to appoint a chief compliance officer, a nodal contact person and a resident grievance officer – each of whom is to be an employee residing in India – amongst the other rules laid down. The Centre has, however, observed that except one Indian social media company – Koo – no other significant outlet has appointed the Resident Grievance Officer, the Chief Compliance Officer and Nodal Contact Person, sources said to Republic.
Government sources stated that some of the social media platforms have taken to offering ‘standard responses’, such as seeking more time, up to six months, for furnishing compliance whereas some have claimed that they still await instructions from their company headquarters in the USA. As per sources, Centre is of the view that the 3-month timeframe provided to the companies with over 50 lakh and above was sufficient for the implementation of the guidelines – particularly for the appointment of the Resident Grievance Officer, the Chief Compliance Officer and Nodal Contact Person. In absence of these appointments, persons who are victims of the ills commonly associated to social media do not know whom to approach. Sources said the Centre is of the view that when these companies have such substantial business operations and draw large revenues from India, then why should grievance redressal have to wait clearance from company HQs in the US? Sources added, ‘Some platforms like Twitter keep their own fact-checkers whose names neither made public nor is there any transparency as to how they are selected and what is their standing.’
Centre’s February guidelines for Social Media companies in India
The notification issued by the Centre earlier this year lays down the following compliance orders for social media outlets to follow:
1. Officers and contact address in India: All significant social media intermediaries are required to appoint: (a) a Chief Compliance Officer; (b) a Nodal Contact Person; and (c) a Resident Grievance Officer, each of whom are to be employees residing in India. The Rules also necessitate significant social media intermediaries to have a physical contact address in India published on its website or mobile application or both.
2. Grievance redressal: Under the Rules, intermediaries must prominently publish on website, mobile application or both- (a) the name and contact details of grievance officer and (b) the complaint mechanism. The grievance officer must acknowledge the complaint within 24 hours and dispose it off within 15 days and provide reasons to the complainant for any action / inaction.
3. Active monitoring of harmful content: significant social media intermediaries shall endeavour to deploy technology-based measures, including automated tools to identify information that depicts rape, child sexual abuse or conduct, or information that has previously been removed. The Rules also require maintenance of appropriate human oversight, and periodic review of such automated tools.
4. Compliance report: Significant social media intermediaries must publish a monthly report containing details of- (a) the complaints received; (b) action taken; and (c) number of links/ information removed or to which access is disabled, pursuant to any proactive monitoring by using automated tools or any other relevant information as may be specified.
5. Removal of/disabling access to information: In case any objectionable information is removed by an intermediary on its own accord, following steps need to be taken – (a) ensure that prior to the removal/ disabling access, the user who created, shared, uploaded such content is notified of such removal/ disabled access along with reasons; (b) provide adequate and reasonable opportunity to the user to dispute the action and request for reinstatement of such access; and (c) resident grievance officer to maintain appropriate oversight over the dispute resolution mechanism.
What exemption as an Intermediary entails
These platforms, known as intermediaries, have exemption from liabilities under section 79 of the Information Technology Act, for any third-party information data etc. hosted by them. Though they claim the protection of being an intermediary, they exercise their discretion to also modify and adjudicate upon the content through their own norms without any reference to Indian Constitution and laws, sources said.