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Twitter Loses Status as ‘Intermediary’ Platform in India, Loses Legal Immunity

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Photo Source: (Left) Silverscreen Media Library (Right) Indian flag and the State Emblem atop Vidhana Soudha in Bengaluru (Bangalore) by Mellisa Anthony Jones at English Wikipedia Licensed Under CCA 3.0 Unported

Twitter Inc has lost its status as an ‘intermediary social media platform’ in India on Wednesday due to its non-compliance with the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Ethics Code) Rules 2021, reported ANI.

Losing the status of an intermediary platform means losing any kind of legal immunity granted in the country. If there is any charge against Twitter Inc for alleged unlawful content on its platform, it would be treated as a ‘publisher’ and not an intermediary. It will be liable for punishment under any law including the Information Technology Act, 2000 as well as the penal laws of the country.

This also means top executives, including the managing director for India, can face police questioning and criminal liability under the Indian Penal Code.

Ravi Shankar Prasad, Union Minister for Law and Justice, and Communications, Electronics and Information Technology, in a series of tweets, charged that despite multiple opportunities given to the microblogging site to comply with the new IT Rules, Twitter had “deliberately chosen the path of non-compliance.”

According to Prasad, Twitter fails to address the grievances of its users by refusing to set up a process in accordance with Indian laws and “it chooses a policy of flagging manipulated media, only when it suits its likes and dislikes.”

In response, a Twitter spokesperson said to ANI that the micro-blogging site is “keeping MeitY (Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology) apprised of progress at every step of the process. The interim Chief Compliance Officer has been retained and details will be shared with Ministry directly soon. Twitter continues to make every effort to comply with new guidelines.”

It is worth noting that Twitter Inc wrote to the government on June 9 that it has appointed a Nodal Contact Person and a Resident Grievance Officer on a contractual basis in compliance with the new IT Rules. 

Source: https://about.twitter.com/en/who-we-are/brand-toolkit

New IT Rules introduced by the Indian government 

On February 25, MeitY introduced the Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code Rules to regulate content in OTT platforms, social media intermediaries and digital news media. These rules came into effect on May 26.

According to the new IT Rules, social media intermediaries including WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube have to establish a ‘grievance redressal mechanism’ for receiving and resolving complaints from users or victims; remove child pornography, videos relating to rape or any kind of nudity and remove or disable access to such content within 24 hours of receiving complaints. They will have to identify the originator of disputed content without providing any information to the originator.

The new IT Rules mandate social media intermediaries to appoint officers who are Indian citizens to key compliance roles that have oversight over the additional due diligence required for removal of content. Abiding by the new IT Rules will also hold “significant” social media intermediaries accountable to Indian laws and in case they fail to adhere to the code, it will lead to their loss of protection from lawsuits and criminal prosecution.

Twitter vs Indian Government

There has been an ongoing dispute between Twitter Inc and the central government over compliance of the new IT Rules.

On June 5, the Centre had issued ‘one last notice’ to the social networking giant to comply with the Indian laws warning them of consequences. It was post this that Twitter appointed the Nodal Contact Person and Resident Grievance Officer.

Meanwhile, a First Information Report was filed late on Tuesday night by Uttar Pradesh police against Twitter Inc, along with several Congress leaders, The Wire and journalists Mohammad Zubair and Rana Ayub, among others, in connection with tweets on a viral video of an elderly man allegedly assaulted in Ghaziabad.

This FIR takes on special significance now with Twitter’s loss of status as an intermediary social media platform.

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