The present situation in India is filled with uncertainty and unrest as the country faces the threat of having its Facebook Instagram and Twitter accounts blocked starting May 26th, 2021. This follows the new intermediary guidelines that have been introduced by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITy). The threat is clearer now, after a 3-month grace period set to end on 25th May.
Contents of the Intermediary Guidelines from the MEITy
For a long time now, the Indian Government has been of the opinion that social media platforms lack a self-regulation code of conduct. In efforts to make the system more accountable, the government set initiatives in motion, involving having their own representatives become part of the social media platforms within the country. The representative would be drawn from different ministries and together, establish a committee targeted at regulating whichever content is shared.
Early this year in the month of February, the MEITy introduced new guidelines set to regulate social media platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook Instagram and Twitter, among others. Each of the social media platforms was given a maximum of 3 months to comply, failure to which they would all be banned from operating within the Indian territory. The rules would not only govern the social media platforms but also the Over The Top (OTT) platforms like Amazon Prime, YouTube, Netflix, and Spotify, among other platforms that actively stream content over the internet.
As part of the new guidelines, it would be expected that social media platforms would each be expected to appoint compliance officers from India, who will serve to manage whichever complaints citizens would have about the platforms. The compliance officers would also have to keep track of the content that users engage in, progressively remove the ones that are subject to objection.
The compliance officers for individual platforms would therefore act as personnel to address grievances, otherwise termed grievance redressal officers), and would be expected to address and solve complaints within a period of no more than 15 days. They would also reserve the mandate to address complaints for when anyone violated the operational codes.
How did the social media companies Facebook Instagram and Twitter respond?
In light of this condition, these America-based companies had each asked for a 6-month grace period, a duration just enough for them to receive directives from their respective headquarters.
In response to this condition, Facebook came forward to provide reassurance concerning their intention and commitment to providing a system that supports free and safe expression. However, despite their aim of compliance with the rules MEITy provided, Facebook made it clear that they would first need to go over certain issues with their government.
Consequences of failure to abide
According to the guidelines, failure to comply would see the social platforms lose their status as well as the protections they received as intermediaries. Moreover, it would be seen as a criminal offense, subject to legal action as defined by Indian laws.
The situation as it is
Well, it is 25th May and so far none of the social media platforms have shown compliance with the new intermediary guidelines. This neglect may see the whole of India inaccessible to these social media and OTT platforms. Whether Facebook Instagram, and Twitter will still be operational tomorrow remains a concern for everyone within the boundaries of the great Republic of India.