Would Twitter Be Accountable For Its Content In India?

The new IT rule could bring Twitter and other social media in court for their responsibility about the content published on their platforms in India.

The new IT rule that came into force on May 25 aims at regulating social media in India.

A consequence of failing to comply with the law is to lose the “safe harbour“, a legal protection considering social media as intermediary platforms. Without it, it would be considered as a publisher of the content, and could be brought to court and be held responsible about tweets or posts that some people put online.

The law requires digital platforms to appoint a grievance officer, a nodal officer and a chief compliance officer, all based in India. But Twitter has failed to do so. Social media platforms said the pandemic made it difficult to recruit people since they were notified to do it on February 25.

Twitterhas deliberately chosen the path of non-compliance“, Ravi Shankar Prasad, the Minister of Electronics and IT, wrote on June 16 on both Twitter and its Indian competitor, Koo. On June 15, the company said it named an interim compliance officer, which would be announced within the next week.

By losing the legal protection of intermediary platforms, the “safe harbour“, Twitter can be considered as a publisher and therefore be held accountable for the content published on its platform. It would however need a court order to decide on it.

By not respecting the IT rule, a court can make Twitter responsible for the content published on the platform
By not respecting the IT rule, a court can make Twitter responsible for the content published on the platform

India’s relations with social media has been turbulent in recent months

The first instance could be with the police report that cited Twitter, “provoking communal sentiments” about an incident in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Police states that an old man was assaulted by 6 people who were upset about the amulets he had sold. The elderly presented it as an attack against his religion, which was then shared and relayed on Twitter.

Earlier in May, Twitter’s Indian headquarters were visited by the police after the company applied the mention “manipulated media” next to a tweet of a politician, member of the governing party, who relayed a fake document. The Minister of IT considers that Twitter “chooses a policy of flagging manipulates media, only when it suits its likes and dislikes“.

In April, the government demanded Twitter, Facebook or Instagram to delete posts criticizing the management of the pandemic as it spurred panic in the population. In February, it asked Twitter to block almost 500 accounts during the farmers’ protests.

The law also requires to delete content within 36 hours after a request from the authorities, to automatically detect and remove pornographic content, or to identify the person who first shared a message when the authorities ask for it.

In May, WhatsApp filed a lawsuit in the High Court of Delhi against the government for a violation of privacy rights as it would force the messaging app to stock all data from the users in the case that a request comes. To date, WhatsApp hasn’t lost its intermediary status.

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