India's new IT rules set to come into effect, will US big tech comply?

Edited By: Gravitas desk WION
New Delhi Published: May 25, 2021, 10:36 PM(IST)

Facebook and Twitter Photograph:( Reuters )

Story highlights

Platforms like Facebook and Twitter have to appoint three officers who will cooperate with law enforcement agencies in India, according to the new regulations

Twitter India's offices were raided by Indian authorities. A few days back, Twitter had labelled some posts as manipulated media which were tweets from members of India's ruling party. Apparently, India's IT ministry had sent a notice to Twitter about it.

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The platform was asked to remove the label. However, Twitter did not comply and then it was raided. It is the story that most news platforms are running, but this is only half the story.

The crackdown is not just about a bunch of tweets, it is about who governs big tech in India. It is also about holding tech giants accountable to Indian laws. If they operate in India, they must abide by the law of the land.

Or are they only answerable to American lawmakers? India has drawn a line. It has set a deadline for some of the biggest social media platforms in the world Facebook and Twitter and the clock is ticking.

The deadline ends on Wednesday as India's new IT rules come into effect. These companies had three months to comply but they failed.

So by Wednesday, they must either show compliance with Indian laws or face the consequences. It is about the digital media ethics code.

These are new rules that the government of India introduced in February. The code is a framework to regulate tech companies in India.

Platforms like Facebook and Twitter have to appoint three officers who will cooperate with law enforcement agencies in India, according to the new regulations. This team must be available 24x7 to respond to any demand.

These officers must be residents of India and their details must be clearly published on the company's website, if any complaint is received, these officers must respond within 24 hours and the complaint itself must be disposed off within 15 days.

These platforms should deploy tools to identify content that depicts rape or child sexual abuse. They must publish a monthly compliance report that lists the complaints that they received and the action that was taken.

Until Monday evening, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram - that's owned by Facebook - had not done any of this. Twitter hasn't said anything about the raid or the non-compliance but Facebook has spoken out.

The company said it wants to comply with the Indian government's demand but it needs to iron out some issues that require engagement with the government.

So basically, Facebook is trying to buy time.

India is a big market for big tech. India is the biggest market for Facebook and it has more than 290 million users in India and 100 million Instagram accounts are Indian.

In the 2019 financial year, Facebook had earned almost 9 billion rupees from the Indian market as income, that's more than $100 million. The profits crossed the 1 billion rupee mark or $18 million dollars - an increase of more than 100 per cent when compared with the numbers from the previous year.

Twitter has 17.5 million Indian users. In 2019, it earned more than 560 million rupees in revenue from India that's $7 million. Just like Facebook, Twitter's profits rose to more than 58 million, almost $800,000 which is a spike of more than 100 per cent.

Social media giants earn big money from India since they have user bases that exceed the population of some countries. But when it comes to following Indian laws, these companies choose to go slow.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has appeared at the US Capitol four times. Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey has appeared at least twice. These companies have been forced to show some accountability before American lawmakers but, they haven't hesitated in wielding their power even against a sitting president.

In the run-up to the election last year, Facebook took down ads from Donald Trump's campaign. Twitter was fact-checking every tweet posted by Trump.

Reports say by November 2020, Twitter had labelled 38 per cent of Trump's tweets with some warning and finally, in January Trump was suspended from all major social media platforms.

Five months have passed and they still haven't allowed Trump to return.

Governments are waking up to the threat they pose. They are trying to rein in tech giants. Germany has opened an anti-trust investigation into Google.

German regulators are probing whether Google's business practices in data gathering give it an unfair advantage in the market.

In America, the state of Florida wants to keep big tech in check. It has become the first state in America to regulate how social media companies moderate content. The law stops platforms from removing content from news outlets if they have a big audience.

Those living in Florida can sue social media companies if they are inconsistent in moderating content. India too needs its own safeguards against big tech. 

India needs laws that protect Indian users and ensure strict compliance from tech giants because so far they have been following their own rulebook as they continue to profit from the expanding Indian market.

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