2021 brings new standards to “follow” for social media; companies “share” concerns but “subscribe”

Explosive confrontations and clashes between social media giants and the government have marked a stormy start to 2021, and the coming year promises to be just as action packed as India passes legislation to protect personal data , applies tighter controls on digital platforms and regulates cross-border information transfer.

The year started on a checkered note for social media platforms when the government asked Twitter to block tweets and handles relating to farmers’ unrest over farm laws, which have now been repealed. Twitter had complied, only to restore accounts later, which led to a massive standoff between the microblogging platform and the government.

Things only got worse for the microblogging platform as the government issued more notices in the following weeks to Twitter to remove accounts that allegedly spread misinformation and provocative content around the protests of the farmers. He has denied access to the accounts of some prominent figures like Punjabi singer JazzyB, hip-hop artist L-Fresh the Lion and others in response to a legal demand in India.

Twitter has gone on the offensive and has raised concerns about the safety of its staff in the country. He alleged acts of intimidation by the police after the Delhi police raided his office premises in May.

The government questioned Twitter’s “differential treatment” over the Capitol siege in the United States, where it had taken swift action and called on the platform to take swift action against “well-coordinated” campaigns conducted around the demonstrations of farmers.

Social media companies were also in the spotlight around the world for hate speech, disinformation and fake news on their platforms. India has repeatedly stressed that while fully supporting foreign and Indian companies in using the Internet as a “force for good”, it will take all measures to ensure that the Internet remains open and not is not dominated by large companies.

And this was evident when the Center introduced tough rules for social media and OTT platforms in February to make them more accountable to end users in one of the world’s largest internet markets.

The rules required social media companies to remove contentious content more quickly, appoint grievance officers and participate in investigations. Important social media intermediaries – those with more than 50 lakh of users – must do additional due diligence, including appointing a compliance officer, nodal contact person and a resident grievance officer and all three officials must be resident in India.

The rules were controversial from the start, as the platforms expressed concerns about the traceability mandate and the short deadline for appointing key officials.

While platforms like Facebook (now Meta) and Google complied with the rules by the May 26 deadline, Twitter – even after the extension expired – failed to name the required officers, resulting in to lose “safe harbor” immunity.

Failure to comply with the rules would result in these social media companies losing their status as intermediary which gives them exemptions from liability for the information and data of third parties hosted by them.

Twitter – which has had several run-ins with the government this year, including branding messages from BJP leaders as manipulated media – found itself in murky waters after posting a distorted map of India that showed Jammu -and Kashmir and Ladakh as a separate country. . The glaring distortions have added to a massive backlash from social media users.

In June, Twitter – which has more than 1.75 crore users in India – sparked controversy again by temporarily blocking the account of then IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad for alleged breach of the law. US copyright law, a decision Prasad called arbitrary and flagrant violation. IT rules. Things only got worse after the removal of the verified blue badge from many accounts, including the personal account of Vice President Mr. Venkaiah Naidu.

“We value open lines of communication with the Indian government and share a commitment to work together to build a digitally inclusive, secure and open Internet that encourages public conversation,” a Twitter spokesperson said.

The spokesperson added that India is a priority market for Twitter – a market it is deeply committed to – and that it will continue to step up the level of proactive enforcement across the service and invest in technology solutions. to combat abuse and the ever-changing malicious behavior online.

In November, Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey announced that Parag Agrawal would succeed him in the lead role. The India-born executive – who had been Twitter’s chief technology officer since 2017 – will face regulatory challenges across markets and grow user base and revenue.

Big tech companies around the world are also facing increased scrutiny from regulators.

In India, the Indian Competition Commission (ICC) is investigating whether Google has adopted anti-competitive, unfair and restrictive business practices regarding the Android operating system. In September, Google brought proceedings before the Delhi High Court over the alleged leak of CCI’s confidential report on the investigation against the tech giant.

2021 has also been a remarkable year for local platforms like Koo amid growing calls to expand the ecosystem of local digital platforms.

WhatsApp has also had its fair share of issues in 2021, starting with the controversy over updating its privacy policy, including how it handles user data and partners with Facebook to offer integrations to through the products of the social media giant.

The messaging app – which has 53 crore users in India according to government data – has faced severe backlash in the country over user concerns that the data will be shared with parent company, Facebook (now Meta ). Later, the company said its updated privacy policy was put on hold until the Data Protection Act came into effect in India.

WhatsApp had also moved the High Court from Delhi, challenging the new social media rules arguing that the traceability provision is unconstitutional and contrary to people’s fundamental right to privacy, as highlighted by the Supreme Court’s ruling.

During the year, an argument broke out over Israeli spyware Pegasus allegedly being used for targeted surveillance in India. In October, the Supreme Court established a three-member independent expert panel to investigate the alleged use of spyware for targeted surveillance in India.

Facebook – which renamed parent company Meta in October – also faced allegations that its system fueled hate speech and fake news after Frances Haugen, an employee of Facebook’s Integrity Team until ‘in May 2021, disclosed tens of thousands of internal documents.

In July, change of guard with the bureaucrat turned politician Ashwini Vaishnaw at the head of the Ministry of Computing, Electronics and Communication. Rajeev Chandrasekhar has been appointed MoS at the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology.

In November, MeitY published a series of frequently asked questions (FAQs) on the new social media and intermediary guidelines to clarify and explain the legislation, and promised that standard operating procedures would follow soon. SOPs for IT rules and intermediate standards will contain details of the appropriate agencies that will have the authority to issue takedown notices to platforms.

As the year drew to a close, a parliamentary panel submitted its report, recommending expanding the scope of proposed data protection legislation to include both personal and non-personal data with “a single administrative and regulatory body”. He also recommended stricter standards to regulate social media platforms holding them accountable for the content they host, while saying it is imperative to store the data in India and restrict access to it. classifying as sensitive and critical personal data.

Industry representatives have raised concerns about some recommendations, including those regarding the inclusion of non-personal data and expanded data tracking mandates, saying these will harm people’s rights and impact people. businesses.

“The most worrying aspect of the changes is that the government has been given full power over the Data Protection Authority, in terms of giving instructions to the authority. This will undermine the DPA and its ability to keep up. the government responsible for the violations, “he added. said political expert Nikhil Pahwa.

The regulatory framework will continue to evolve, be defined and strengthened for digital and data-driven businesses until 2022, with the passage of the Data Protection Bill in Parliament in the coming months.

And for social media companies in particular, their “timelines” will be scrutinized through data privacy, user security and compliance “filters”, in accordance with the letter and spirit of the new digital rules. ‘India.

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