New Social Media Rules Threat to Freedom of Expression: Twitter

New rules require large social media platforms to follow additional due diligence

New Social Media Rules Threat to Freedom of Expression: Twitter
Twitter Considers New Social Media Rules ‘Potential Threat’ to Freedom of Expres
PTI - 27 May 2021

IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Thursday said WhatsApp users should not fret about newly designed social media rules that were rolled out to prevent misuse of platforms. “The government fully recognises and respects the right of privacy”.

Prasad said that the government welcomes criticism including the right to ask questions.

"The rules only empower the ordinary users of social media when they become victims of abuse and misuse," Prasad posted on homegrown micro-blogging platform Koo, and also tweeted.

The new IT rules offer the users a robust forum for grievance redressal.

The obligation to reveal the originator of an offensive message already in circulation relates only to offences relating to sovereignty, integrity, and security of India, public order, rape, and child sexual abuse.

The government on Wednesday had strongly defended its new digital rules, saying the requirement of messaging platforms like WhatsApp to disclose the origin of flagged messages does not violate privacy and went on to seek a compliance report from large social media firms. The regulations will remove any content flagged by authorities within 36 hours and set up a strong complaint redressal mechanism with an officer based in the country.

The new rules, announced on February 25, require large social media platforms to follow additional due diligence, including the appointment of a chief compliance officer, nodal contact person, and resident grievance officer.

Significant social media companies will have to publish a monthly compliance report disclosing details of complaints received and action taken, as well as details of contents removed proactively. They will also be required to have a physical contact address in India published on its website or mobile app, or both.

Under the rules, companies will have to take down posts depicting nudity or morphed photos within 24 hours of receiving a complaint.

Non-compliance with new IT rules would result in criminal charges taken against them and the platforms would lose the intermediary status that provides them immunity from liabilities over any third-party data hosted by them

On the other side, Twitter on Thursday expressed its concern and called the visit by Delhi Police a form of "intimidation" and said it was a potential threat to freedom of expression.

Twitter had marked several tweets by ruling BJP leaders on alleged strategy documents of the opposition to target the government over COVID as containing 'manipulated media', which prompted the police to visit its offices late on Monday. Opposition Congress has disputed the document, calling it fake.

According to Twitter, the company is particularly concerned about the requirement to make an individual (the compliance officer) criminally liable for content on the platform, the requirements for proactive monitoring, and the blanket authority to seek information about its users.

"Right now, we are concerned by recent events regarding our employees in India and the potential threat to freedom of expression for the people we serve," Twitter said in a statement.

As per data cited by the government, India has 53 crore WhatsApp users, 44.8 crore YouTube users, 41 crore Facebook subscribers, 21 crore Instagram users, while 1.75 crore account holders are on microblogging platforms Twitter.

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