Is the government considering a legislation to regulate social media companies, to prevent them from curbing the rights of lakhs of persons supporting nationalistic ideology, asked BJP MP R.K. Sinha in the Rajya Sabha on July 11. In response, IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said that the government was not planning to bring any legislation to regulate social media companies, and that the “Government is fully committed to freedom of speech and expression and privacy of its citizens as enshrined in the constitution of India”.

Prasad added that the “government does not monitor content appearing on [the] internet” and it is in fact law enforcement agencies who take action against “malicious content” on the internet on a “case-to-case basis”. He also said that under the IT Act, 2000, social media companies are intermediaries. Under section 79 of the Act, “intermediaries are required to disable/remove unlawful content on being notified by appropriate government or its agency”, he said, before adding:

“The Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules 2011 notified under this section require that the intermediaries shall observe due diligence while discharging their duties and shall inform the users not to host, display, upload, modify, publish, transmit, update or share any information that is harmful, objectionable, and unlawful in any way.” – Ravi Shankar Prasad

Big Tech’s repeated run-ins with Indian government on ‘safeguarding citizens’ rights’

  • The Ministry of Home Affairs, in November 2018, had said that Twitter had been slow in removing or blocking objectionable content in some cases. It said that compliance for removal of such content had been 60%, even when the competent authority issued an order to Twitter.
  • In February 2019, Twitter was summoned by a Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology to examine “how to safeguard citizens’ rights on social/online news media platforms”. This meeting was called a day after there were protests outside Twitter India’s office accusing the platform of being “biased against the right-wing”. However, Twitter didn’t appear for the parliamentary hearing.
  • In February 2019, a Parliamentary Committee on Information Technology had also called on Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram representatives to discuss safeguarding citizens’ rights on online platforms in the same month.