India steps up clampdown on US social media giants
India imposed tough new rules on social media platforms Thursday as it accused US tech giants of “double standards” in taking down disputed content.
New Delhi is the latest in a series of governments to clamp down on Facebook, Twitter and other big tech firms but analysts said India’s move could be challenged in court.
Facebook said the new regulations, which will take effect in three months, would be carefully studied.
The rules will force social media platforms, online streaming services and digital news services to remove content within 24 hours of a complaint being made.
Tech companies will also have to disclose the origin of a “mischievous tweet or message” if asked by an Indian court or the government.
Information technology minister Ravi Shankar Prasad justified the move by comparing the refusal of social media firms to take down content after protesting farmers went on a rampage in New Delhi to their reaction after violence at the US Congress days earlier.
“If there is an attack on Capitol Hill in Congress, social media supports police action. But there is an aggressive attack on Lal Qila… you have double standards,” he said, calling it “unacceptable”.
The farmers stormed New Delhi’s historic Red Fort, also known as Lal Qila, as a mass rally turned into a city-wide riot on January 26.
India’s Hindu nationalist government ordered Twitter to take down hundreds of accounts and tweets commenting on the demonstrations.
Twitter at first complied but soon reopened most of the accounts.
Social media companies will also have to appoint a chief compliance officer and a “grievance redressal officer”, both based in India, under the new regime.
A separate “self-regulatory body” led by an official nominated by the government will have the power to warn or censure a platform, force it to make an apology or include a “warning” or “disclaimer” about content.
Prasad said there must be “a robust grievance redressal mechanism” and complaints must be dealt with in 24 hours and redressed within 15 days.
“The government welcomes criticism and the right to dissent but it is important for the users of social media to have a forum to raise their grievance against the misuse of social media,” he added.
Social media has become a central battleground in the government’s showdown with farmers who have been camped on roads on the outskirts of Delhi since November calling for the repeal of new free market farm laws.
But the government began its complaints about social media when it first came to power in 2014.
A Facebook spokesperson said the US company was “an ally for India” and “we will carefully study the rules”.
“We have always been clear as a company that we welcome regulations that set guidelines for addressing today’s toughest challenges on the internet,” the spokesperson said.
Facebook has been the target of legislation in Australia to force the firm to pay for news content. It also faces mounting pressure from Canada, Britain and the European Union.
Internet freedom analysts expressed concern over the Indian government’s regulations.
“I think these new rules are extremely worrisome because they are imposing a regulation on free speech and privacy without any backing of law,” Nikhil Pahwa, founder of a digital news portal and a cyber activist, told AFP.
“In my opinion all these rules should be challenged in court and if they are, I doubt they would hold up.”