India announces rules to regulate content online posing ‘risks’ to freedom of speech

The Indian government announced new rules to regulate content on social media, making Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter and others more accountable to legal requests for the swift removal of posts and sharing information on where the messages originated from.

The rules come in the backdrop after Twitter recently ignored government orders to drop content criticising PM Narendra Modi’s new farm laws.

India has the largest market by users for Facebook and its messenger service WhatsApp.

The new rules called the Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code, issued by the government on Thursday will be legally enforceable.

The rules will require big social media companies to set up a grievance redressal mechanism and within three months appoint new executives to coordinate with law enforcement.

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

Big social media firms will be obliged to remove content within 36 hours of receiving a legal order, according to the rules.

The government also said companies need to assist in probes or other cyber security related incidents within 72 hours of receiving a request.

They must also disable within a day any post depicting an individual in a sexual act or conduct.

IT minister Prasad also told reporters the rules would oblige the companies to reveal the originator of a message or post when legally ordered.

The government has asked video-streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon’s Prime Video to classify content into five categories based on users’ age.

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.