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As UP Police file FIR over fake news, Twitter loses immunity shield it had in India. Can now be prosecuted for content

Twitter loses intermediary status in India after failing to comply with Indian laws. UP police register first FIR against social media giant for allowing content that spread fake news and fanned communal hatred. The FIR filed against Md Zubair and Rana Ayyub for spreading fake news in the Loni incident also names Twitter.

Note: Later reports suggests the main accused’s name is Parvez Gujjar and not Parvesh Gujjar.

Social Media giant Twitter has lost its intermediary status in India for not complying with the new Information Technology Rules, which came into force on May 26, reports Times of India.

According to the reports, as Twitter India did not comply with IT rules enforced by the Indian government and failed to appoint statutory compliance officers criminally liable for the content posted on the platform within the given time, the intermediary status of the platform has automatically lapsed.

The loss of intermediary status could mean that its top executives, including the country managing director, may now face police questioning and criminal liability under IPC over “unlawful” and “inflammatory” content posted on the platform by any user. The legal immunity that was provided to Twitter over content moderation in the country is officially over now.

The Indian government is reportedly unhappy with the brazenness of the social media company, which have been continuously evading compliance with Indian rules. The government believes that repeated reminders and even the temporary relaxation that was extended to social media giant as a “goodwill gesture” has not yielded results.

Govt of India had given enough time to Twitter to comply with Indian laws

In fact, the government had issued “one last notice” to Twitter, asking it to comply with the statutory provisions under the new IT Rules or else risk losing legal immunity from any third-party content posted on the platform. However, the company kept on evading such notices by claiming that it would make the appointment in a week. However, the government still awaits such an appointment.

With this, Twitter has become the only American platform to have lost the immunity – granted under Section 79 of the IT Act, even as Google, YouTube, Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram remain continues to enjoy the protection, Times of India quoted a few official sources.

Section 79 of the IT Act provides social media companies intermediary status, which gives them exemptions and certain immunity from liabilities for any third-party content and data hosted by them.

“It is evident that in spite of repeated indulgence granted, including the last notice on June 5 as a goodwill gesture, Twitter has not complied with the Intermediary Guideline Rules under the IT Act having statutory force as they have been framed in exercise of powers under Section 87 of the IT Act. Rule 7 of the Rules very clearly enjoin that where an intermediary fails to observe these rules, the provisions of subsection (1) of section 79 of the IT Act shall not apply to such intermediary, and the intermediary shall be liable for punishment under any law including the IT Act as also the penal laws of India with respect to unlawful content published on that platform,” government sources said.

Twitter fails to comply with Indian laws after repeated notices, loses intermediary status

Twitter has been resolutely opposing the new digital rules notified by the government of India. Even though other social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp have complied with the new laws, Twitter had last month asked the government for an additional three months for the same.

The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021, which were announced in February and came into effect from May 25, mandates the social media intermediaries with more than 5 million users and providing messaging services to identify the first originator of problematic content that may harm the country’s interests. The companies should also appoint an Indian grievance officer to deal with the complaints.

One of the most significant provision of these rules is that if the social media platforms don’t comply with the provisions prescribed in the guidelines, this will attract penal provisions as per the Information Technology Act. The new guidelines say that the social media intermediaries must follow the due diligence mentioned in it, and if any intermediary does not follow the due diligence, the safe harbour provisions will not apply to them.

The non-compliance with rules will result in these platforms losing the intermediary status that provides them immunity from liabilities over any third-party data hosted by them. In other words, they could be liable for criminal action in case of complaints.

Now, after losing the immunity shield as ‘intermediary’, as per the new IT rules, Twitter officials are liable for prosecution under the IT Act. As they will be held responsible for any content which is not allowed as per the guidelines, the officials of the social media companies will be liable to be prosecuted for such content. This implies that the social media officials will also be punished according to the nature of the offence, which is defined in the IT Act for various kinds of offences.

As the Indian government had enforced the new IT rules, Twitter India had cried foul, saying it was very concerned regarding the rules that make the compliance officer criminally liable for content posted on the platform. It had, however, failed to explain why it had not tried to comply with Indian laws even after more than three months time was granted to it.

First case registered against Twitter India

The Uttar Pradesh Government has initiated action against Twitter India for failing to take down tweets that spread misinformation about a crime in the state. An FIR has been lodged against the social media platform in connection with the same.

In the incident, a Muslim man was beaten up by a few individuals, however, alleged fact-checkers gave a communal colour to the crime by saying that he was beaten for refusing to chant Jai Shri Ram. However, after investigating the matter, the Ghaziabad Police has debunked the fictional narrative spread with the intent to spark communal tensions. The original video was examined, which showed no mention of ‘Jai Shri Ram’.

The Ghaziabad Police had said that the ‘victim’ Abdul Samad Saifi was allegedly beaten up by people known to him after an occult amulet he had prepared for one of them did not work as promised. Accused Parvesh Gujjar, Adil and Kallu were arrested on Monday while efforts were on to nab Arif and Poli.

Following the investigation by the Uttar Pradesh police, a case against Twitter was registered for failing to take any action against the manipulated media.

The FIR filed by UP Police names Alt News co-founder Md Zubair, who had shared a video of the incident with muted audio, and had claimed that the old man was forced to chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’. Other accused named in the FIR include Rana Ayyub, leftist propaganda site The Wire, Salman Nizami, Maksoor Usmani, Congress spokesperson Dr Sama Mohammad, Saba Naqvi, Twitter Inc, and Twitter Communications India Ltd.

Ayodhra Ram Mandir special coverage by OpIndia

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OpIndia Staff
OpIndia Staff
Staff reporter at OpIndia

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