A set of Central rules to regulate digital content featuring a code of ethics and a three-tier grievance redressal framework come into effect in two days without any of the social media giants -- Twitter, Facebook and Instagram -- complying to any of it, government sources said. The rules for news sites and OTT platforms were announced in February and they were given three months to comply. Sources said if the companies fail to follow the rules, their intermediary status can be ended and they may be subject to criminal action.
"Though they claim the protection of being an intermediary but they exercise their discretion to also modify and adjudicate upon the content through their own norms without any reference to Indian Constitution and laws," sources said.
The rules include appointment of India-based compliance officials, giving their name and contact address in India, complaint resolution, monitoring of objectionable content, compliance report and removal of objectionable content.
Under the new laws, the oversight mechanism will include a committee with representatives from ministries of Defence, External Affairs, Home, I&B, Law, IT and Women and Child Development. It will have "suo motu powers" to call hearings on complaints of violation of the Code of Ethics if it wants.
The government will also designate an officer of the rank of a Joint Secretary or above as the "Authorised Officer" who can direct blocking of content. If an appellate body believes that the content violates the law, it is empowered to send the content to a government-controlled committee for blocking orders to be issued.
The government had said its aim was to establish what it called a "soft touch progressive institutional mechanism with a level-playing field".
Notifying the rules on February 25, the Electronics & Information Technology ministry gave a three-month deadline to social media platforms to comply with the new rules. The window ends on May 25.
So far, no company except for one has appointed any such officials, sources said. Some platforms have asked for a six-month deadline, saying they were waiting for instructions from their headquarters in the US.
"These companies are working in India, making profits from India but wait for a green signal from the headquarters to follow guidelines," sources said. Companies like Twitter, they said, keep their own fact checkers that neither identify nor reveal how the facts are being investigated.
People on social media, meanwhile, do not know who to complain to and where their problem will be resolved, they said.