Non-compliance with new rules: Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp run the risk of losing legal immunity

By: |
May 25, 2021 6:15 AM

The government had given such firms three months to comply with the new rules but as on Monday none of the firms have done so. Instead, they have under aegis of industry associations sought a six-month extension for compliance as the Pandemic has crippled their normal office work.

The government had given such firms three months to comply with the new rules but as on Monday none of the firms have done so.The government had given such firms three months to comply with the new rules but as on Monday none of the firms have done so.

Intermediaries like Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, etc run the risk of losing immunity from criminal proceedings under the Information Technology Act, if they fail to comply with the new Intermediary guidelines notified by the government on February 25, which comes into force from May 26.

The government had given such firms three months to comply with the new rules but as on Monday none of the firms have done so. Instead, they have under aegis of industry associations sought a six-month extension for compliance as the Pandemic has crippled their normal office work.

The new rules mandate intermediaries like WhatsApp to identify the first originator of messages deemed mischievous by government, whereas others like Facebook and Twitter need to pull down unlawful content within 36 hours of being flagged.

The revised social media rules were notified on February 25 and for significant intermediaries, the implementation was to come into effect after three months. A social media firm having more than 5 million users in India is termed as a significant intermediary.

The new rules also mandate that significant social media intermediaries like Facebook, Google, Twitter, WhatsApp, YouTube, Instagram, etc. should appoint a chief compliance officer based in India, who shall be responsible for ensuring compliance with the Act and rules.

A nodal contact person should be appointed for 24×7 coordination with law enforcement agencies. Another resident grievance officer should be appointed for performing functions mentioned under grievance redressal mechanism.

Grievance officer shall acknowledge the complaint within 24 hours and resolve it within fifteen days from its receipt. The social media firms need to set up a voluntary verification mechanism, so that fake accounts are not created on the platforms. Also, significant social media firms should have a physical address in India.

These new regulations have been framed under the Information Technology Act, 2000.

But several associations representing these big social media firms including IAMAI, Ficci, Nasscom among others, have written to the government that significant social media intermediaries may be provided a further period of six months from the current deadline for compliance. Reasoning in favour of extension, Nasscom has said that the Ministry of Electronics and IT may take monthly progress reports to ensure that the timelines are adhered to by the concerned intermediaries.

The associations have highlighted that some of the obligations are expected to be difficult to comply within a remote work context, which has been necessitated in view of the unforeseen surge in Covid-19 cases in India, the accompanying restrictions on movement of persons, and the temporary closure of physical office spaces.

Moreover, some of the changes, particularly those requiring product and process changes – such as advertisement transparency, measures to enable tracing of first originator of messages, and the creation of the office of the Chief Compliance Officer, would require more time for compliance.

The government is expected to take a call on Tuesday regarding the extension.

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