India’s new Information Technology rules came into effect on 26 May 2021. In less than one month of their implementation, the rules have made their first big strike. According to an ANI report, Twitter India has lost its intermediary status for non-compliance with the rules. The Indian IT Minister, RS Prasad has also tweeted on the matter. His Tweets verify that the government may try to strip Twitter off its intermediary status.
However, a fact check by Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) says that the government can’t simply remove the intermediary status and that the case needs to go to court first. Nonetheless, there’s still a chance that Twitter may lose its legal protection in India.
With 17.5 million active users in India, Twitter will be the first significant social media platform to possibly lose its legal protection to the new IT rules. While the platform says it has been working to comply with the guidelines, it is yet to show full compliance.
What Can Take Away Twitter’s Legal Protection In India?
Section 79 of the Information Technology Act says that platforms like Twitter India are intermediaries. This makes Twitter a platform that people use to publish things. It also means that Twitter or Facebook or any other social media platform isn’t directly responsible for what the people are publishing on it.
However, Rule 7 of the new IT rules can take away this protection from Twitter. In other words, the government can hold Twitter responsible for the content published on the platform.
Another report from The Mint says that Twitter has already lost its intermediary status after an FIR by the Ghaziabad Police. The FIR came after the video of an old man being beaten went viral on the platform.
The video also shows a group of people chopping the old man’s beard. According to Ghaziabad Police, Twitter did nothing to stop the video from going viral or catching a communal angle.
What Will Happen To Twitter India Now?
The police may now question Twitter’s senior officials in the country under the Indian Penal Code. It also means Twitter can be treated as a publisher of the viral video and punished accordingly.
Twitter had told the government that it is complying with the new rules. The company says it has appointed a Nodal Contractual Person and a Resident Grievance Officer. At the time the company lost its legal protection, both these appointments were on a contractual basis.
So if Twitter loses the intermediary status, the platform can be held responsible for the video and countless other posts. Seeing the lively political discussions that happen on Twitter, losing the intermediary status could get it in a lot of trouble.
Two Hands To Clap!
In our Guide to Indian Internet Rules 2021, we pointed out that the government could now blame Facebook and Twitter for anything that anyone says on the platform. Without proper safeguards in place, their misuse is just a matter of time. On the other hand, Twitter failed to timely comply with the rules.
If you read the news coverage on the video in question, you’ll see it has a communal angle to it. In essence, it means the communal angle that the video caught on Twitter is true. Assuming it to be the case, the FIR against Twitter India looks like a move to muzzle the problem instead of resolving it.
Twitter India’s non-compliance to the rules can’t be neglected either. Even if there was no FIR, the platform is in the wrong for such delay in complying with the rules. Twitter knew about the rules since January and enjoyed legal protection for almost a month after the news rules came into force.
Simply put, Twitter India is at fault for non-compliance with the rules. It may earn back the intermediary status, now that the platform has complied with the rules. On the government’s side, trying to drag Twitter into the FIR for the viral video will be overkill.
In a rational world, Twitter can’t be held editorially responsible for the 17 million active users in India. If the government actually ends up holding it responsible, it’ll be a misuse of the new IT rules.