India unveils tougher rules for social media such as Facebook, Twitter

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New Delhi: India announced new rules on Thursday to regulate large social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter. This is the latest move by the government of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi to strengthen control of large high-tech companies.

These regulations were issued after Twitter ignored orders to reduce the content of farmers’ protests, and inspired the government since 2018 to suppress orders that it considers false or illegal.

The government said in a press statement that the new measures will require large social media companies to establish grievance mechanisms and appoint executives to coordinate with law enforcement agencies.

The government said the guidelines in its code of digital media ethics were needed to hold social media and other companies accountable for misuse and abuse.

Social media firms should be “more responsible and accountable,” Ravi Shankar Prasad, the minister for information technology, told reporters in outlining the rules.

A detailed version of the guidelines is to be published later and take effect three months after that, the government said. It did not specify the date, however.

Facebook said it welcomes rules that prescribe ways to address challenges on the web. “The details of rules like these matter and we will carefully study the new rules,” it said in a statement.

Twitter declined to comment.

Reuters reported on Wednesday the draft of the rule, which allows companies to remove content up to 36 hours after receiving a government or legal order.

Prasad also told reporters that according to the law, the rules will force the company to disclose the message or the sender.

Globally, technology companies are subject to strict scrutiny. Last week, after a dispute with the Australian government over the tax sharing issue, Facebook blocked news coverage in Australia. Last week, it encountered strong opposition from publishers and politicians.

This prompted Australia to make final changes in a law passed on Thursday to ensure that Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Facebook Inc pay media companies for content, a step that countries such as the UK and Canada hope to follow.

India’s rules will also require video streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime to classify content into five categories based on users’ age, the government said.

Online news media will also be regulated as part of the new rules, with the ministry of information and broadcasting creating an oversight system, the government added.

Apar Gupta, the executive director at advocacy Internet Freedom Foundation, said the new rules for digital news media portals and video streaming platforms posed risks to freedom of speech.

“To fix the problems in these sectors the government has adopted an approach which carries the risks of political control and censorship,” he said.

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