Twitter loses legal shield in India, will now be responsible for its users’ misleading content

Twitter’s failure to comply with the new IT rules on time has landed the microblogging site into a huge trouble in India. Unable to act in accordance with the revised guidelines of the Indian IT rules which came into effect on May 26, Twitter has now lost its status as an intermediary platform in the country. The social networking site has lost its privilege against legal protection granted to it under Section 79 of the Information Technology (IT) Act.

Twitter from now will no longer enjoy legal protection over posts from users. This means that the microblogging site and its officials will now be held responsible for any misleading content from various users. With this, the social media platform will be treated as a publisher and not as an intermediary.

‘Intermediary’ status gone: Twitter now unarmed against legal action

Twitter will now no longer relish the protection under Section 79 of the IT Act. As per Section 79, an intermediary shall not be held legally responsible or liable for any third-party information, data, or communication link shared by him/her on the platform. The microblogging platform has not only lost its indemnity in the digital world, but has also made itself prone to criminal actions in the country in case any unlawful content gets posted on the platform.

The guidelines issued in February officially required significant platforms in India to design the posts for special officers as part of a larger grievance redressal mechanism by May 26 as per the new IT Rules 2021. In fact, further noticing the non-compliance of the rules, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology even wrote to the platforms asking them to furnish the details of all the appointments made.

Twitter lost its ‘safe harbour’ protection in India over non-compliance with IT rules and failure to appoint key personnel mandated under the new guidelines, despite the government’s repeated reminders. Although, the platform has said that it had appointed personnel to the position of resident grievance office and nodal contact person and was in the process of appointing a chief compliance officer.

Twitter: The only platform to lose ‘protective shield’

The government of India introduced new IT rules 2021 in December last year and finally implemented them in May 2021. As per the new rules for Information Technology, it was obligatory for all social media platforms in the country with more than 50 lakh users to appoint a Chief Compliance Officer, a Nodal Contact Person, and a Resident Grievance Officer from India to smoothen the grievance mechanism for citizens of the country.

Twitter despite given an extra chance by the government failed to comply with the new rules and this is the reason why the popular social media platform is now facing the heat and has become vulnerable to face police questioning and criminal liability under IPC, if any ‘unlawful’ or ‘inflammatory’ content gets posted on the platform by any of its users.   

While Twitter has lost its protective shield, granted to it under Section 79 of the IT Act, other platforms like Google, YouTube, Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram remain protected under the act are successfully enjoying legal protection and their intermediary platform status as they well on time complied with government’s new policy.

Did Twitter deliberately choose the path of ‘non-compliance’?

After the ‘safe harbour’ protection and intermediary status was taken by the MeitY, the Union IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Wednesday in a series of tweets said that Twitter has “deliberately chosen the path of non-compliance” as the platform was given repeated warnings.

Prasad even said that it is “astounding” to see that Twitter that always portrays itself as the flag bearer of freedom of speech, chooses the deliberate path of defiance even when Intermediary Guidelines were involved.

Twitter already facing repercussions

An FIR has already been filed against Twitter by Ghaziabad Police which has accused the social media platform of deliberately not deleting tweets involving a viral video of a 72-year-old man Muslim man being brutally thrashed in Ghaziabad’s Loni. The FIR by Ghaziabad Police highlighted this incident of legal protection granted to Twitter under Section 79 of the IT Act.

Twitter has been named in an FIR for not removing “misleading” content posted by the users linked to the incident which stimulated ‘communal sentiments’ of different people and groups present on the platform.

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