The Government of India seems to be working on a set of new guidelines for internet and social media companies that are operating in India. It is planning to introduce this new set of rules by the month of September. According to a report by The Economic Times, the reason the government is working on these new guidelines is to increase the accountability of these companies. These rules are also meant to “ensure” that internet and social media firms are quick to take action against any offensive content, pieces of false news or disinformation or rumors that are posted on their platforms.
The report pointed out that these new guidelines “will invoke the notification of fresh clauses” in the current “intermediary guidelines” in Section 79 of the IT Act. The lackluster response by WhatsApp after a sharp increase in the number of violent attacks the caused real-world physical harm and loss of life is likely to be the reason for the government to start formulating more stricter rules. To recap, WhatsApp is responsible for the spread of fake news and disinformation that led to the violent attacks across the country. The report pointed out that the “draft of the guidelines is ready and a legal firm is vetting” the rules.
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According to the rules, the government will make it necessary for internet and social media firms to have a “grievance officer” in India that is responsible for responding to all the complaints that law authorities file “within a few hours”. The rules also stated that the companies have to “ensure” that the content can be traced.
Existing guidelines that were “notified in 2011” require companies to follow up on the “due diligence” while giving up to 36 hours to remove problematic content. The companies are also required to name a grievance officer on their website for law enforcement agencies and other authorities to follow up with for any response. Majority of the upcoming guidelines match up to the current guidelines but the difference here is that the upcoming rules will be enforced properly.
Currently, companies such as Facebook, and Google have been categorized as “intermediaries” that do not actively take part in creating or modifying information and instead, only act as the facilitators. However, as pointed by the report, legal experts stated that this move about ensuring that the content is traceable “will open up a can of worms” as it will extend to SMS messages that are sent and received on cellular networks.