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India unveils tougher rules for Facebook, Twitter

The rules come after Twitter ignored orders to drop content on farmers' protests to clamp down on material the government regards as disinformation or unlawful.

FILE PHOTO: The Twitter and Facebook logo along with binary cyber codes are seen in this illustration taken November 26, 2019. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo FILE PHOTO: The Twitter and Facebook logo along with binary cyber codes are seen in this illustration taken November 26, 2019. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: The Twitter and Facebook logo along with binary cyber codes are seen in this illustration taken November 26, 2019. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo (REUTERS)

India announced new rules on Thursday to regulate big social media firms, such as Facebook and Twitter, the latest effort by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government to tighten control over Big Tech firms.

The rules come after Twitter ignored orders to drop content on farmers' protests, fuelling the goverment's zeal, dating from 2018, to clamp down on material it regards as disinformation or unlawful.

The new measures will require big social media companies to set up a grievance redressal mechanism and appoint executives to coordinate with law enforcement, the government said in a news statement.

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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 while 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.

Also Read: India plans new social media controls after Twitter face-off

“We have always been clear as a company that we welcome regulations that set guidelines for addressing today’s toughest challenges on the Internet. Facebook is committed to people’s ability to freely and safely express themselves on our platforms. The details of rules like these matter and we will carefully study the new rules that were just published. We acknowledge and appreciate the recognition from the Minister on the positive contributions of social media to the country,” a Facebook spokesperson said speaking about these new rules. 

“Facebook is an ally for India and the agenda of user safety and security is a critical one for our platforms.  We will continue to work to ensure that our platforms play an enabling role in fuelling the exciting digital transformation of India,” the spokesperson added in a statement. 

Twitter has declined to comment.

On Wednesday, Reuters reported the draft of the rules, which give companies a maximum of 36 hours to remove content after they receive a government or legal order.

Prasad also told reporters the rules would oblige the companies to reveal the originator of a message or posting when asked to do so through a legal order.

Tech firms are coming under tighter scrutiny worldwide. Facebook faced a global backlash last week from publishers and politicians after it blocked news feeds in Australia in a dispute with the government over revenue-sharing.

That prompted last-ditch changes by Australia in a law passed on Thursday to ensure Google and Facebook pay media companies for content, a step that nations such as Britain and Canada want 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.

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