Twitter loses protection under Section 79 of IT Act- What it means?


Twitter, a social media giant, has lost its safe harbour immunity in India over its failure of appointing statutory officers, as required by the new IT rules of the Indian Government.

This will mean that Twitter will no longer be protected under Section 79 of the IT Act and its top executives will now be liable for all the content on its platform that is considered inflammatory or considered unlawful in nature.

However, Twitter has reportedly appointed an interim Chief Compliance Officer in India, and details of it will be soon shared with the IT Ministry of India.

As per the Twitter spokesperson, the ministry has been kept in the loop of the progress at every step of the process. An Interim Chief Compliance Officer has been retained and details will be shared with the MeitY directly soon. Twitter has continued its efforts to comply with the new guidelines.

What is Section 79 of the IT Act?

According to section 79 of the Information Technology act, an intermediary will not be held legally or otherwise responsible for any third-party information, data link or communication made available or hosted on its platform.

The protection under Section 79 will be applicable if the intermediary in any way does not modify any information contained in the transmission, initiate the transmission of the message, or select the receiver of the message.

Twitter loses intermediary status under Section 79: What it means?

Without the protection of Section 79 of the IT Act, the social media platform will now be liable for any ‘third party information data, or communication link made available or hosted by him’.

In brief, Twitter can now be held criminally responsible for the content on its platform. However, for the end-user, Twitter losing legal protection will have no effect.

Understand with an example-

After an elderly Muslim was beaten up in the town in Ghaziabad district in UP on June 5 and the video of the abuse went viral on Twitter, an FIR was filed on June 15 against 9 accused, which included ‘Twitter Communications India Pvt’ and ‘Twitter Inc’.

Tweets around the incident had indicated that the victim was forced to chant ‘Jai Shree Ram’, a claim that was later denied by the police.

Twitter, after losing the intermediary status, is now liable for what has been termed ‘inflammatory’ tweets. The social media giant has been accused in an FIR of not removing the misleading content. Twitter and several journalists have also been charged for inciting communal sentiments with the posts sharing the man’s allegations.

Why Twitter lost its intermediary status?

The new Intermediary Guidelines came into effect on May 26, 2021. However, most of the social media platforms failed to comply with the guidelines, citing Coronavirus lockdown and restriction.

On June 5, a final notice was issued to Twitter by the government asking it to comply with the statutory provisions or losing its intermediary status.

Later, even though other platforms agreed to comply with the rules, Twitter approached the government and asked for more time to follow the new rules. It stated that it intends to comply with the guidelines but still needs more time because of the pandemic situation in India.

However, with this continuous rift with Twitter, the government finally announced that whoever has not yet complied with the guidelines has lost the intermediary status.

With this, Twitter became the first US platform to lose the protection of Section 79, hence, losing its intermediary status in the country.

What are the Indian Government’s guidelines for social media platforms?

To establish a grievance redressal and compliance mechanism. It will include appointing a nodal contact person, a resident grievance officer, and a chief compliance officer.

The Social Media platforms must submit monthly reports on the complaints received from the users and the actions taken.

The third guideline was for the instant messaging apps to make provisions for tracking the first originator of the message.

Twitter has failed to comply with intermediary guidelines: IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad

The Electronic and Information Technology Minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad on June 16, 2021, took to Twitter and said that the simple fact of the matter is that Twitter has failed to comply with the Intermediary Guidelines that came into effect from May 26, 2021.

He added that the company was given multiple opportunities to comply with the new IT rules but it deliberately chose the path of non-compliance.

The Union Minister also said that the viral tweet on the Ghaziabad incident ‘was illustrative of Twitter’s arbitrariness in fighting the fake news’.

How platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Google saved their intermediary status?

Other social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Instagram, Google, or Facebook will continue to enjoy their intermediary status under Section 79 of the IT Act in India.

They were able to retain their immunity by following the announced guidelines. By the end of May 2021, Facebook, Google, and WhatsApp had submitted the details of their new compliance officers to the IT ministry.

On June 1, 2021, WhatsApp had named Paresh B Lal as its Grievance Officer for India.

On June 8, 2021, Spoorthi Priya was named as the Grievance Officer for India by Facebook on its website.

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