Updated: May 31, 2021
People are panicking over the possibility of WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and other social media giants facing a ban in India if they do not comply with the new Intermediary guidelines. The deadline to comply with these new guidelines was on 25th May 2021. The controversial Indian media company, Koo, is the online company to accept these guidelines so far.
What do the new rules say?
The new guidelines require a compliance officer to generate monthly compliance reports, a nodal contact person and a resident grievance officer, who must address grievances within 14 days, to be appointed by the social media platform companies. The data retention period has been extended to six months for investigative purposes. The government may even force social media companies to remove content like child abuse or content that “goes against public order.”
The government has also asked companies like WhatsApp and Signal to ensure that they can trace messages back to their originator, effectively ending End-to-End encryption on messages. This goes against WhatsApp’s policy of privacy.
OTT Platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime have been asked to divide their content into five age categories: U, 7+, 13+, 16+ and A (Adult, 18+). They have also been told to follow a Code of Ethics. This means they will not be able to upload (or will have to remove) content that affects the sovereignty of India, incites violence, disturbs public order, or jeopardises the security of the nation. They must also consider India's multi-cultural society and take due caution before featuring content on their platforms.
If the companies do not comply with these new guidelines, they lose their protection as an Intermediary and shall be liable for punishment and criminal action.
What have been the responses from the companies?
Facebook (410 million users), Twitter (17.5 million users), Instagram (210 million users) and WhatsApp Messenger (530 million users) have not yet complied with the new rules.
A Facebook spokesperson said that they aim to comply with the new IT rules and will discuss a few issues that need more government engagement.
WhatsApp has decided to sue the government, seeking to block these new rules as they would compel the company to break privacy protections.
Twitter has not given an official statement regarding their stance as of the time of writing this article. (Don’t worry, this article will be updated! Check-in later. :) )
YouTube and Google have assured the government that they intend to comply with the new rules.
Will these platforms actually face a ban?
These social media platforms will continue to operate in India until the government decides to take action. It is rather unlikely that any of these platforms will face a ban. Instead, the government may decide to pursue other routes of punishment. For example, the government may ask the companies to pay a fine.
In the long term, experts say that the rules may make services like WhatsApp less and less private, giving users less anonymity and lesser protection from surveillance.