India plans new social media controls after Twitter face-off

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Chafing from a dispute with Twitter, India plans to oblige social media companies to erase contentious content fast and assist investigations, according to a draft regulation.

FILE PHOTO: 3D printed Facebook and Twitter logos are placed on a computer motherboard in this illustration taken January 21, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

New Delhi’s planned “Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code” – a copy of which was seen by Reuters – come as various nations around the world try to assert tighter control over powerful Big Tech firms.

Facebook faced a global backlash from publishers and politicians last week after blocking news feeds in Australia in a dispute with the government over revenue-sharing.

In India, Twitter ignored orders to remove content over farmers’ protests, fuelling the zeal of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government since 2018 to tighten regulation for content it deems disinformation or unlawful.

The latest draft rules – which would be legally enforcable -say companies should remove content as early as possible, but not later than 36 hours, after a government or legal order.

They must also assist in investigations or other cyber security-related incidents within 72 hours of a request. Further, if a post depicts an individual in any sexual act or conduct, then companies must disable or remove such content within a day of receiving a complaint, the rules added.

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Twitter, which did not take down all accounts the government alleged were spreading lies about the protests over agricultural reforms, declined to comment.

RACIAL, RELIGIOUS CONTEXT

The draft proposal also requires companies to appoint a chief compliance officer, another executive for coordinating on law enforcement and a “grievance redressal officer”.

All must be resident Indian citizens.

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

It was unclear when the rules would be announced of if they may undergo further changes.

Industry sources say new regulations could hit Big Tech firms’ investment plans in India and increase compliance headaches. The rules would also apply across other digital and online media, the draft proposal said.

“A publisher shall take into consideration India’s multi-racial and multi-religious context and exercise due caution and discretion when featuring the activities, beliefs, practices, or views of any racial or religious group,” the draft rules said.

Referring to films and other entertainment, including web-based serials, the draft rules called for a “classification rating” to describe content and advise discretion.

Streaming platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime have faced complaints in India for obscenity.

Police in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh questioned an Amazon executive for nearly four hours on Tuesday over allegations that a political drama, “Tandav”, hurt religious sentiments and caused public anger.

Reporting by Aditya Kalra and Sankalp Phartiyal in New Delhi; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne

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Aditya Kalra Sankalp Phartiyal