NEW DELHI: The government is drafting guidelines that will bind companies such as Twitter, WhatsApp, YouTube and Facebook to respond to complaints over content in a “few hours” as against the current norm of 36 hours, an official said.
The new intermediary guidelines under Section 79 of the Information Technology Act will also require companies to respond to complaints from not just courts and government entities, but also the general public.
The move is prompted by the government’s view that slow response of these companies to complaints were leading to the spread of rumours and false news on their platforms. Such rumours have led to violence in several parts of the country.
“The draft of the new rules has been prepared and is currently being vetted by legal consultants,” the official said. It will then be sent to the legal affairs ministry for its opinion before being signed on by minister for electronics and IT Ravi Shankar Prasad, the official added.
Prasad had recently told Parliament that in order to fight the menace of fake news over social media, the government would strengthen the implementation of Section 79 of the IT Act. Companies will also be required to have grievance officers stationed in India, he had said.
Rising incidents of lynching sparked by rumours — like of child kidnapping — on platforms such as WhatsApp have pressed the government into action. The Ministry of Electronics and IT has been sending stern warnings to WhatsApp to develop a mechanism to immediately stop the spread of misinformation. While the company has taken a few steps and promised more, the government has been unsatisfied with the response so far.
The official said since the grievance officers appointed by companies would be stationed in India, the timeframe could be reduced significantly.
“Earlier, companies used to say we need at least 36 hours since most of them are headquartered in the West Coast (of the US) and there are time zone differences, etc. But, now that the grievance officers will be based in India, that will not be the case anymore.”
According to experts, even though the current intermediary guidelines require social media companies to ensure adequate due diligence of the content on their platforms, the implementation is patchy.
Cyber law expert and Supreme Court advocate Pavan Duggal said a majority of the companies are not aware of the guidelines and even if they are aware, they chose not to follow those. “There is no enforcement mechanism, there is no deterrence in case you don’t comply.”