India has joined the global regulatory push to rein in American technology giants, by tightening rules that govern how social media and streaming companies do business in the world’s biggest democracy.
The new rules will require the social media giants like Facebook and Twitter to take down unlawful content quicker, Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said in an online briefing.
Streaming services such as Netflix, Google’s YouTube and Amazon‘s Prime Video also face stricter rules over content.
Increasing global scrutiny
Already under scrutiny from Australia and Europe, the tech giants can now add their most important emerging market to the list of countries whose regulators are tightening their grips. These policy changes have the potential to slow down the companies in a market that’s already the largest for some of them in terms of the number of users.
“Governments everywhere are trying to take control of the free flow of information and not relinquish it to any one social or technology company,” said experts. “We’re moving towards a world where social media will be regulated in some form or the other.”
The new rules replace a previous code from 2011. Draft versions that have been circulating recently have attracted criticism from freedom-of-speech activists and technology trade groups concerned the rules will result in increased censorship and reduced user privacy. The rules take effect immediately, though social-media providers will get three months before they need to start complying.
India’s fast-growing digital economy is headed toward 1 billion users by 2025, prompting the deep-pocketed corporations to battle for market share in everything from online retail and digital payments to messaging and streaming.
Facebook is used by 410 million people in India and its WhatsApp messaging service by 530 million, said Mr. Prasad, the minister of electronics and information technology. YouTube has 448 million users, Instagram 210 million and Twitter 17.5 million, he added.
Besides the global giants, the new rules, called Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code, are set to affect a number of Indian startups. Beyond streaming and messaging, the code will also set guidelines for digital publishers of news and current-affairs content.
According to the rules, social media companies have to appoint a chief compliance officer, a grievance officer, and a nodal officer, all resident in India, and publish monthly compliance reports. They will be required to resolve user grievances within 15 days also.
The new rules, which have been in the works since 2018, comes weeks after Twitter declined to comply with some of the Indian government’s orders amid a protest by farmers in the country’s capital city. The government said at the time that Twitter couldn’t act as the judge or justify non-compliance.