Intermediary rules: Social media firms welcome regulations that address challenges of internet

While Facebook said it will continue to work towards fuelling the digital transformation of India, companies like Google and Twitter have remained mum on the new guidelines.
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Social media giant Facebookon Thursday said it has always been supportive of regulations that set guidelines for addressing "toughest challenges on the Internet" and pledged its support to ensuring safety and security of users on the platform.

Calling itself an ally for India, Facebook said it will continue to work towards fuelling the digital transformation of India.

"The details of rules like these matter and we will carefully study the new rules that were just published. We acknowledge and appreciate the recognition from the Minister on the positive contributions of social media to the country," a Facebook spokesperson said commenting on the new intermediary rules announced by the government earlier in the day.

The spokesperson added that the company welcomes regulations that set guidelines for addressing today's toughest challenges on the Internet.

"Facebook is committed to people's ability to freely and safely express themselves on our platforms. Facebook is an ally for India and the agenda of user safety and security is a critical one for our platforms. We will continue to work to ensure that our platforms play an enabling role in fuelling the exciting digital transformation of India," the spokesperson added.

While some lauded the move, companies like Googleand Twitterhave remained mum on the new intermediary guidelines that were announced on Thursday.

The government has tightened rules governing social media and streaming companies, requiring them to take down contentious content quicker, appoint grievance redressal officers and assist investigations. This has been done with a view to making social media and OTT companies accountable for "misuse and abuse" of their platforms.

Homegrown microblogging platform Koo said the new guidelines will help clarify the responsibilities of intermediaries.

"Only a small fraction of the social media users are found to be making posts which may be against the laws of the land. The social media guidelines help make addressing these kind of situations uniform across all social media platforms and ensures the safety of the majority social media users across India," a Koo spokesperson said.

It added that enabling and maintaining freedom of speech is core to social media platforms and that the company will continue to work in the best interest of its users at all times.

"At the same time, we are committed to abide by the laws of the land. This policy will help protect the interest of citizens at large and keep nefarious elements at bay," the spokesperson said.

Industry body IAMAI also welcomed the guidelines saying they will help consumers of online curated content, social media and online news, and current affairs to resolve their complaints in a process-oriented manner.

Rameesh Kailasam, CEO of IndiaTech.org, said the new guidelines have prescribed stricter compliance for certain aspects such as take down compliances, identification of originator of content as well as setting up of compliance officers and redressal mechanisms.

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"While these are robust and elaborate, it may translate into a certain degree of cost and operational challenges with it. That said, the intermediary guidelines have recognised and acknowledged the concept of self-regulation which can now show the way for other sectors in the online space to replicate and evolve a Government-Industry-Governance Model," he added.

Sajai Singh, Partner at J Sagar Associates, said elements of traceability, local address requirement and 24 hour-take down "will surely put pressure on social media intermediaries".

The norms on social media come weeks after a spat between the government and Twitter over certain messages around farmer protests that the government saw as inciting violence. The government sought removal of about 1,500 accounts and messages, a request that Twitter complied with, only after being warned of penal action.

The government has also confronted Facebook and WhatsApp in the past over issues like misinformation on the platform, data breaches, and traceability of originator of inflammatory messages that have incited violence.

Industry executives were also of the view that while the regulations announced are robust, proper implementation of these would be critical.

BML Munjal University Dean Nigam Niggehalli said the rules are trying to regulate the more unsavoury features of social media and OTT content -- pornographic content and fake news being the two most obvious problems.

"The real issue, which we will have to wait and watch, is to see how the rules are implemented and whether more bureaucratic supervision will lead to more stifling of freedom of expression," Niggehalli said.

Mishi Choudhary, managing partner of boutique law firm Mishi Choudhary and Associates, said the rules have "some sprinkling of positive clauses" like addressing taking down of content on revenge porn but raises the barrier of entry for new entrants who don't have offices in India.

Broadband India Forum (BIF) said self-regulation of online curated content providers is a "responsible and mature step".

"...we feel that the adoption of a self-regulation code by the industry is the right way forward," BIF President TV Ramachandran said.

Edited by Megha Reddy

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