NEW DELHI: Engaged in a bitter battle with global social media companies over its new rules for IT intermediaries, the government had some respite on Friday with top companies such as Google, Facebook, and WhatsApp agreeing to appoint statutory officers in line with the guidelines.
Twitter, which so far steadfastly refused to comply with the rules, proposed the name of an outside consultant, though this was summarily rejected by the government as they were not in consonance with the guidelines.
The fresh move comes amidst raging debate over the new IT rules that has also seen WhatsApp move the Delhi high court over its denial to track the origins of “unlawful” messages, and Twitter accuse the government of “dangerous overreach that is inconsistent with open, democratic principles”.
Friday saw a change as majority of companies came forward and expressed willingness to start complying with a section of the provisions. LinkedIn (owned by Microsoft), Telegram, Google, Facebook and WhatsApp shared details of their chief compliance officer, nodal contact person and grievance officer with the IT ministry.
Having these officers is a mandate under the IT (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 which were announced on February 25 this year.
Even Indian companies such as Koo (local rival to Twitter) and Sharechat have made the appointments.
However, Twitter remains the only global player that is still playing hardball. The Jack Dorsey-co-founded company, which has been in the middle of a raging regulatory storm in India over a variety of issues, did respond to the government late Thursday night, sharing details of a lawyer working in a law firm in India as their nodal contact person and grievance officer, the sources said.
However, the government rejected its choice. “The rules require that these designated officers of the significant social media companies (those having more than 50 lakh users) must be the employees of the company and a resident in India,” the sources said, while explaining why Twitter’s nomination was rejected.
Interestingly, Twitter has not yet sent the details of who would be the chief compliance officer to the government.
When contacted by TOI over the development, a company spokesperson said, “Thank you for reaching out. We have no further comment to share at this time.”
Appointment of the officers by the majority of companies is being seen as an “encouraging step” by the government as it has faced flak over the new rules in recent times.
In the face of Twitter’s criticism that it was overreaching its executive powers, the government has emphasised that “protecting free speech in India is not the prerogative of only a private, for-profit, foreign entity like Twitter”. Also, it has clarified that the new IT rules only empower ordinary users of social media when they become victims of abuse and misuse.
Twitter, however, has alleged that it has been forced to “withhold” (block in India) portions of “legitimate free speech” on its platform over fears around the safety of its employees and threats of financial penalties.