Amid Feud With Twitter, Govt’s Draft Rules on Social Media Regulation Include a ‘Code of Ethics’: Report

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Even as the face-off between the Narendra Modi administration and Twitter continues to intensify with the social media defiantly refusing to follow orders to ban a host of accounts flagged by the government, the Centre has formulated draft rules to regulate all social media, OTT (Over The Top) platforms and news-related websites, NDTV reported.

According to the report, the rules constitute a self-regulatory mechanism that will include a stringent code of ethics and regular compliance reports.

The Centre is also mulling appointing a chief compliance officer to keep constant track and respond to complaints from law enforcement agencies. The officer will also submit regular reports on compliance. There will be a grievance redressal mechanism portal and an oversight mechanism, NDTV reported quoting sources.

The oversight mechanism will be developed by the government, which will “coordinate adherence to the Code of Ethics by publishers and self-regulating bodies”, it stated.

Although the draft does not mention any punishment, it states that the sites will have 36 hours to remove flagged content. A Secretary-rank officer will have the powers to take action in case of an emergency and place it before the committee within 48 hours, the report added.

Govt warns Twitter

The rules to regulate social media are being drafted amid a row with Twitter over blocking of accounts. India on Thursday warned social media platforms of strict action for failure to crack down on inflammatory content, saying they have to fully comply with the country’s law. A day after his ministry rebuked Twitter for not complying with its orders to take down inflammatory content, Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said social media platforms cannot give differential treatment while handling problems on Capitol Hill and the Red Fort.

The government, he said, was committed to freedom of media and rights of individuals but it was equally concerned about safety, security, and law and order in the country. “Please don’t spread enmity, violence and misinformation. Please follow the Constitution of India and the law of the land (otherwise we will be very strict),” he said replying to a question in Rajya Sabha.

On Wednesday, his ministry had expressed displeasure at Twitter for failing to remove all of the over 1,100 accounts and posts it alleged spread misinformation about the widespread protests by farmers against new agricultural laws. Prasad said the social media companies took immediate action when riots broke out at Capitol Hill in Washington but ignored similar action when farm bill protestors ran riot at Red Fort on Republic Day.

“This double standard would not work here,” he said flagging inflammatory content, especially those with the hashtag of Modi planning farmers’ genocide. “Yeh kya mazak hai? (What kind of a joke is this?),” he said.

The Constitution of India guarantees freedom of speech but Article 19 (2) also says that it is subject to reasonable restrictions because of the “sovereignty and integrity” of India. Prasad said that while social media platforms have their own self-regulatory mechanism to check and evaluate inflammatory content, that does not mean they will not follow the Indian rules.

“This will not work here,” he said. Asked about steps taken by the government to check the spread of misinformation on social media, he said “We have recently flagged Twitter” on the issue.

His ministry officials are in talks with Twitter on the issue. On Wednesday, the government told Twitter’s representatives that the microblogging site has to follow its orders and that it was not a subject matter of negotiation.

The government was riled after Twitter in a public blog post said it has taken down only half of the accounts and posts flagged by the government. “In keeping with our principles of defending protected speech and freedom of expression, we have not taken any action on accounts that consist of news media entities, journalists, activists, and politicians,” it had said.

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