Twitter has lost its “safe harbor” immunity in India over its failure to appoint statutory officers, as required by the government’s new IT rules. This means Twitter and its top executives will now be liable for all the content on its platform that is considered unlawful or ‘inflammatory’ in nature.
We reached out to Twitter and were told that it has appointed an interim Chief Compliance Officer in India and that the details of it will soon be shared with the IT ministry.
“We are keeping the MeitY apprised of the progress at every step of the process. An interim Chief Compliance Officer has been retained, and details will be shared directly with the Ministry. Twitter continues to make every effort to comply with the new Guidelines,” a Twitter spokesperson said.
What does losing the intermediary status mean for Twitter?
Without the protection of Section 79 of the IT Act, Twitter will now be liable for any “third party information, data, or communication link made available or hosted by him.” In essence, it could be held criminally responsible for content on the platform. For the end-user, as of now, Twitter losing the legal shield will not affect it.
In fact, after an elderly Muslim was reportedly beaten up in a town in Uttar Pradesh’s Ghaziabad district on 5 June and the video of the abuse went viral on Twitter, an FIR was filed on 15 June against nine accused, including “Twitter Inc” and “Twitter Communications India Pvt.” Tweets around the incident indicated that the victim was forced to chant “Jai Shree Ram” by the attackers, a claim that was later denied by the Ghaziabad Police.
After losing intermediary status, Twitter is now liable for what has been termed “inflammatory” tweets. Twitter has been accused in an FIR of not removing “misleading” content linked to the incident. Twitter and several journalists have been charged for inciting “communal sentiments” with posts sharing the man’s allegations.
Why has intermediary status been taken away from Twitter?
The Minister of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), Ravi Shankar Prasad, took to Twitter on Wednesday, saying, “the simple fact of the matter is that Twitter has failed to comply with the Intermediary Guidelines. That came into effect from the 26th of May.” Prasad further adds that Twitter was given multiple opportunities to comply with the new IT rules. However, it has “deliberately chosen the path of noncompliance.”
“Twitter fails to address users’ grievances by refusing to set up process as mandated by the law of the land. Additionally, it chooses a policy of flagging manipulates media only when it suits its likes and dislikes,” Prasad went on to write in the Twitter thread.
“It is astounding that Twitter which portrays itself as the flag bearer of free speech, chooses the path of deliberate defiance when it comes to the Intermediary Guidelines,” Prasad wrote in a tweet.
Prasad also said that the viral tweet on the Ghaziabad incident “was illustrative of Twitter’s arbitrariness in fighting fake news.”
With the new IT rules coming into effect, social media companies in India originally had till 25 May to comply with the new rules. The new guidelines require social media platforms to establish a grievance redressal mechanism and name a grievance officer, who must register a grievance within 24 hours and redress it in 15 days.
However, most platforms failed to comply with the rules, citing COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions.
On 5 June, the centre issued the “final notice” to Twitter, asking it to comply with the statutory provisions or risk losing its intermediary status.
Days later, Twitter approached the government seeking more time to comply with the new IT rules. Twitter said that it intends to comply with the rules but needs more time due to the pandemic situation in India.
“The government believes that whoever has not yet complied with the guidelines has lost the intermediary status. For Twitter now, any penal action that is applicable under the Indian Penal Code will be applicable,” Indian Express reported a source saying.
With this, Twitter has become the first American platform to lose the protection of Sector 79 of the IT act, hence, losing its intermediary status in India.
How have other social media platforms like Google, YouTube, and Facebook escaped this?
Other social media platforms like Instagram, WhatsApp, and Facebook continue to enjoy the immunity of a social media intermediary in India. And this immunity comes from compliance.
According to a report by HT, by May-end, Google, Facebook, and WhatsApp had submitted details of new compliance officers to the IT ministry.
On 1 June, WhatsApp named Paresh B Lal as its grievance officer for India.
On 8 June, Facebook named Spoorthi Priya as its grievance officer for India on its website.