Sat, Jan 12, 2019 - Page 10 News List

Social media firms in India pushback

Reuters, NEW DELHI

Global social media and technology giants are gearing up to fight sweeping new rules proposed by the Indian government that would require them to actively regulate content in one of the world’s biggest Internet markets, sources close to the matter said.

The rules, proposed by the Indian Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology on Christmas Eve, would compel platforms such as Facebook Inc, its messaging service WhatsApp and Twitter Inc to remove unlawful content, such as anything that affected the “sovereignty and integrity of India.”

This has to be done within 24 hours, the rules propose.

The proposal, which caught many holidaying industry executives off guard, is open for public comment until Jan. 31. It will then be adopted as law, with or without changes.

The move comes ahead of India’s national election due in May and amid rising worries that activists could misuse social media, especially the WhatsApp messaging service, to spread fake news and sway voters.

Industry executives and civil rights activists say the rules smack of censorship and could be used by the government of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to increase surveillance and crack down on dissent.

Social media firms have long battled efforts by governments around the world to hold them responsible for what users post on their platforms.

American and Indian lobby groups, representing Facebook and other companies, have sought legal opinions from law firms on the impact of the federal proposal and have started working on drafting objections to be filed with the ministry, four sources in the sector said.

“The companies can’t take this lying down. We are all concerned, it’s fundamental to how these platforms are governed,” an executive at a global social media company said.

The new rules, the sources said, would put privacy of users at risk and raise costs by requiring onerous round-the-clock monitoring of online content.

Facebook and WhatsApp declined to comment.

A Twitter spokesperson said the company continues to engage with the ministry and civil society on the proposed rules.

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