Back in February this year, when the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) had announced new regulations for social media and over-the-top (OTT) media platforms in the country, the entire industry was shook. Many had said that these new rules would not only affect privacy of their users, but also hinder free speech. However, the government did not back down, and maintained its position on the May 26 deadline, something that companies like Facebook did not respond to for a long time.
This led to many fearing that platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram may get banned in India, since they would have to comply with the new rules or lose their position in the country. However, it looks like the worst may have been avoided, as the company has finally come out and said that it is up for complying with the new set of rules set by the government.
The company has said that it will comply with the provisions under the new rules, and will work to improve their efficiency by implementing operational processes.
Saying that it is “committed” to allowing its millions of users to express their views and issues in free manner on the platform, the company has added that it is currently in the midst of holding conversations with the Government on some matters which require a greater bit of engagement with the MIB.
Facebook’s statement comes barely a day before it was set to face the risk of losing its status as a social media intermediary in India, as the three month period that was granted to intermediaries for adoption of the new rules before they come into effect wraps up tomorrow. Up until now, only India’s home-grown social media app Koo- the Indian lookalike of the microblogging website Twitter, had accepted the terms of the new rules.
The new rules were established under the Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 (Rules), and require social media and OTT platforms to set up a comprehensive three-tier system for grievance redressal, and set out specific guidelines for classifying content in terms of viewer age, themes, impact, and tone, among others.
Under the policy pertaining to the new IT rules, the government had defined certain companies to be “Significant Social Media Intermediaries”, provided they had users equal to, or in excess of, 5 million. Twitter, Google, Facebook, and Koo, among others, are the notable platforms which qualify as significant intermediaries.
Under the provisions of the new set of guidelines, social media and OTT platforms are expected to set up a grievance officer at the first level of contact with the system, who will carry out the regulation of the platform. The second rung, on the other hand, will comprise a self-regulatory board, and will include the content publishers. The third level will have an inter-departmental body under the MIB itself.
By agreeing to accept the guidelines under the new rules, Facebook will be accepting the requirement of appointing a grievance officer, along with chief compliance officer as well as a nodal person.
While that may not sound devastating, the rules also require companies to disclose information about the originator of the messages, should the government make any such request. This, according to the industry, can go against the idea of free speech, and has become a topic of hot debate.
Fakebook’s fate in India is still up for question.