The government seeks to make the legislation stricter, especially for social media giants with a large user base
The amendments will put the responsibility on the companies to tackle illegal content rather than take refuge under the immunity shield
Under Section 79 of the IT Act, social media platforms enjoy the ‘intermediary’ status if they comply with the government notices for the takedown of certain content pieces
The government has not been happy with social media giants because of their lower compliance to takedown notices. Now, under the amendments to the IT Rules, the government is looking to dilute their safe harbour immunity and put more emphasis on accountability.
According to the TOI report, the government is looking to bring amendments to the law that will address accountability concerns, protection of personal data and improve cyber security related to social media.
The law will mandate government scrutiny of top social media players such as Twitter, Facebook, Google, Instagram and YouTube. If they host illegal and inflammatory user content, these companies will also risk losing their immunity shield or safe harbour protection against third-party content violation.
The report affirmed that the government seeks to make the legislation stricter, especially for social media giants with a large user base. The government has noticed reluctance in adhering to the rules and ‘repeated instances of bias’. Thus, the government argued that these intermediaries have safe harbour immunity under Section 79.
“The category of significant social media (SSM) – or primarily the larger platforms – deserves a relook on the Section 79 protection they enjoy. Their obligations should be much higher than the intermediaries,” the report quoted.
The safe harbour rule or Section 79 of the IT Act offers an intermediary status to social media organisations. This status exempts them and gives them immunity from liabilities for any third-party content. Thus, the law exempts the social media platforms’ liability for any third-party information, data, or communication link on the platforms.
But, it is only available to the platforms that abide by the government’s removal or takedown notices. Under the amendment, the IT Rules will put the responsibility on the companies to tackle illegal content rather than take refuge under the immunity shield.
Under the new draft for IT Rules, the government has proposed additional avenues for grievance redressal apart from Courts. It wants to ensure that big tech companies do not contravene the constitutional rights of Indians. Thus, the government has laid down additional accountability standards for Social Media Intermediary (SSMI).
The amendments add another layer of grievance redressal to the existing status quo of users to social media grievance offices to courts.
SSMI will have to inform users and publish rules and regulations, privacy policies or user agreements and ensure users’ compliance.
The government is also holding discussions to revamp the IT Act and cover areas such as video streaming, online gaming, artificial intelligence and machine learning. But so far, the government has stated that the amendments will not affect early and growth stage startups.