The Indian government is considering changing the new social media rules to add fines for non-compliance, rather than sentencing employees for their first violation, even at social media companies to ensure compliance, according to two senior government officials.
“We have been contacted by many companies to make this change, and we are currently having this discussion internally within [IT] Ministry to see if and how we can introduce these changes, “said a government official on condition of anonymity.
“We want companies in India to do business without feeling like they are under a lot of pressure,” said a second government official.
When and whether these changes will see the light of day, the two officials did not want to say, as the discussions in the ministry are still in the run-up.
Imposing a fine on social media companies for non-compliance is not a new practice. In Russia and Turkey, for example, social media companies are fined for failing to adhere to their agent liability or content regulation regime.
In India they say the 26th compliance. In simple English, it means that these employees are at very real risk of going to jail. Not exactly the best carrot for attracting skilled workers, too.
Hence the rule was a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it is a controversial issue for social media companies who view prosecuting a company executive as a harsh punishment for failing to control the content posted on their platforms.
Civil society activists and freedom of expression experts, on the other hand, say social media companies would be on the safe side because of the harsh penalties for non-compliance and end up enacting arrogant content rules to protect their employees.
Trickypedia has previously written extensively on the subject where public policy experts and high-level sources at social media companies had pointed out that India’s intermediary liability system needs to strike a balance as law enforcement is too harsh and fines may be a good way to ensure compliance.
The two officials quoted above also said the government is in the process of releasing clarifications on several provisions under the social media rules. “We will be releasing the SOPs soon because it has been a huge demand from companies,” said one of the officials.
According to officials, the SOPs would clarify which law enforcement and government agencies can ask such companies to remove content from their platforms. The biggest problem, however, the ambiguous description of content deemed inappropriate remains a challenge for the foreseeable future.