Microblogging website Twitter on Wednesday lost its status as an intermediary platform in India because of its failure to comply with the revised Information Technology regulations which came into effect on May 26. The government has revealed that Twitter is the only mainstream social media platform that has failed to comply with the new rules. It is believed that Twitter lost its legal status in the country over its failure to appoint statutory officers in line with the new IT rules.
The new law announced earlier this year makes it mandatory for tech companies in India to appoint a chief compliance officer, nodal officer and grievance officer in the country. All of these officials should be Indian. The rules apply on all major tech companies including WhatsApp, Facebook, Google and others.
Union IT & law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has explained through a series of tweets that the microblogging website was given multiple opportunities to comply with the new IT rules but it "deliberately chose the path of non-compliance".
"The culture of India varies like its large geography. In certain scenarios, with the amplification of social media, even a small spark can cause a fire, especially with the menace of fake news. This was one of the objectives of bringing the Intermediary Guidelines. It is astounding that Twitter which portrays itself as the flag bearer of free speech, chooses the path of deliberate defiance when it comes to the Intermediary Guidelines," the Union minister wrote.
The government has taken the decision to revoke Twitter's status after issuing a final warning last week where it had asked the platform to "immediately" adhere to the new IT rules, warning it that the failure to do so will lead end the exemption from liability under the IT Act.
After losing its intermediary status, Twitter will not be considered a platform that hosts content from various users. Instead, it will be seen as a publisher and will be directly editorially responsible for anything published on the website.
This means that Twitter will be open to lawsuits and legal proceedings in case of any alleged lawful content. It will be liable for punishment under any law, including IT Act, as also the penal laws of the country.
This puts Twitter in a very difficult spot. The social media platform has certain community guidelines but doesn't have direct control on what is posted or shared on it. In fact, Twitter has been criticised in the past for its inability to stop trolls on the platform. At the same time, it has also emerged as the go-to platform for sharing major announcements by governments, organisations and individuals.
The platform has responded to government's decision by saying that it was setting up a local office as advised by consultants in India, leading to a delay in appointing a compliance officer as per the new IT rules.
"We are making progress with relation to establishing an appropriate local office for Twitter Inc with the advice of consultants in India. We have been advised that it is necessary for us to establish this office prior to hiring the CCO and other officers on a permanent basis," Twitter said in its reply to the government.
A day earlier, Twitter said that it had appointed an interim Chief Compliance Officer and said that the details will be shared with the government soon.
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