New Delhi | Jagran Tech Desk: The new Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021, commonly termed as the new IT Rules 2021, come into effect from today. While the new rules for social media platforms and large digital platforms were announced in February this year, a three-month window was given to them to comply with these guidelines.

The new rules require large social media platforms - defined as those with over 50 lakh registered users - like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Koo to follow additional due diligence, including the appointment of a chief compliance officer, nodal contact person and resident grievance officer.

As per the new rules, non-compliance with the guidelines would result in these social media companies losing their intermediary status that provides them exemptions and specified immunity from liabilities for any third-party information and data hosted by them. To sum it up, they could be liable for action.

As the deadline of May 26 for the implementation of these rules came closer, social media has been abuzz with posts wondering if non-compliance of these guidelines would lead to Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp getting banned in India.

Well, this is not the case, at least not anytime soon, and for this we need to understand the Subsection 1 of the Section 79 of the IT Rules 2021.

Understanding Section 79 of the new IT Rules 2021

The Section 79 specifically gives digital media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and WhatsApp immunity in a way against liability for posts made on their networks, third party information or data.

“When an intermediary fails to observe these rules, the provisions of sub-section (1) of section 79 of the Act shall not be applicable for such intermediary and the intermediary shall be liable for punishment under any law for the time being in force including the provisions of the Act and the Indian Penal Code,” the new IT rules state.

“Notwithstanding anything contained in any law for the time being in force but subject to the provisions of sub-sections (2) and (3), an intermediary shall not be liable for any third-party information, data, or communication link made available or hosted by him,” states the Subsection 1 of Section 79.

The sub-sections 2 and 3 state that the legal immunity provisions apply if “the function of the intermediary is limited to providing access to a communication system over which information made available by third parties is transmitted or temporarily stored or hosted” and the intermediary does not initiate the transmission, select the receiver of the transmission or select and modify the information contained in any transmission.

The Subsections 1, 2 and 3 clearly conclude that in case of non-complaince of the new IT Rules 2021, social media and digital platforms could, at the most, face legal action and lose immunity against any laws holding them responsible for the content shared on their networks.

What the new IT Rules 2021 state?

On February 25, the government had announced tighter regulations for social media firms, directing them to remove any content flagged by the authorities within 36 hours and setting up a robust compliant redressal mechanism with an officer being based in the country.

Significant social media companies will have to publish a monthly compliance report disclosing details of complaints received and action taken, as also details of contents removed pro-actively.

They will also be required to have a physical contact address in India published on its website or mobile app, or both.

As per data cited by the government, India has 53 crore WhatsApp users, 44.8 crore YouTube users, 41 crore Facebook subscribers, 21 crore Instagram users, while 1.75 crore account holders are on microblogging platform Twitter.

The new rules were introduced to make social media platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter and Instagram -- which have seen a phenomenal surge in usage over the past few years in India -- more accountable and responsible for the content hosted on their platform.

Social media companies will have to take down posts depicting nudity or morphed photos within 24 hours of receiving a complaint.

Notably, the rules require significant social media intermediaries -- providing services primarily in the nature of messaging -- to enable identification of the "first originator" of the information that undermines sovereignty of India, security of the state, or public order.

This could have major ramifications for players like Twitter and WhatsApp. The rules also state that users who voluntarily want to verify their accounts should be given an appropriate mechanism to do so, and be accorded a visible mark of verification.

(With inputs from agencies)

Posted By: Abhinav Gupta