New IT rules: Social media companies could lose shield over content


NEW DELHI: Amendments being brought to the country’s IT laws will mandate strict government scrutiny of top social media players such as Twitter, Facebook, Google, Instagram and YouTube over hosting illegal and inflammatory user content, under which the companies also run the risk of losing their immunity shield, or safe harbour protection, against third-party content violations.
The amendments, among other things, also give powers to the government to overturn decisions of the social media giants to suspend, block or remove accounts of users over various violations.
These rules are expected to come into force soon and are being implemented as part of amendments to the 2021 IT Rules for social media intermediaries, sources in the IT ministry told TOI. The government is set to give a go-ahead to the new provisions that were proposed in draft amendments to the IT Rules on June 6.
The amendments, among other things, also give powers to the government to overturn decisions of social media giants to suspend, block or remove accounts of users over various violations.
The government, which has had several run-ins with social media companies such as Twitter, Google, and Facebook over their refusal to take down certain content, despite official orders under Section 69A of the IT Act, is of the view that legislation needs to be made stricter, especially for companies that have a large user base in the country but have often shown reluctance in adhering to the rules.
The sources said that “repeated instances of bias” have been noticed in the way the “very sophisticated platforms host and amplify conversations and content”.
“Therefore, there is a strong argument that this category of intermediaries cannot be given safe harbour immunity under Section 79,” one of the sources said. “The category of significant social media (SSM) – or primarily the larger platforms – deserves a relook on the Section 79 protection that they enjoy… Their obligations should be much higher than the intermediaries.”
The source said that the new IT Rules will put responsibility on the companies to tackle illegal content, rather than take refuge under the immunity shield. “You will be accountable for the content.”
Also, it will strike against the tendency of companies to arbitrarily suspend user accounts or block content. “You are now responsible for making sure that fundamental rights guaranteed to the Indian Citizens under Articles 14, 19, and 21 are never violated.”
The IT ministry has had consultations with stakeholders on the amendments and is finalising the norms after pouring over 500 suggestions.





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