Compliance with norms on self-regulation; cops descend on Facebook and Twitter office

New Delhi, May 24: The 24-hour countdown has begun for social media companies to comply with norms prescribed by the government in February this year. These rules aim at making the media companies more accountable by way of self-regulation and empower users by reinforcing the grievance redressal mechanism.

One of the rules envisages designation of an officer of the rank of a Joint Secretary or above as the "Authorised Officer" who can direct blocking of content. Social media companies were also asked to appoint grievance officers or nodal contact persons within three months. Except Indian company Koo — which has a user base of above 50 lakhs —most social media intermediaries have not done the needful.

Now, it is feared social media companies such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram “may become liable for criminal action” and lose their status as “intermediaries” and will not be able to exercise their discretion to modify and adjudicate upon the content through their own norms.

In an indication of what action awaits them, a team of the Delhi Police Special Cell descended at the office of Twitter India in the national capital on Monday. Around the same time, a second team landed at the office of the social media giant in Gurugram.

Earlier this month, Twitter had tagged a document shared by BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra as 'Manipulated Media'. This document, Patra claimed, was evidence of the Congress party's strategy to "defame" Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

"Delhi Police is inquiring into a complaint in which a clarification is sought from Twitter regarding the classification of a tweet by Sambit Patra as 'manipulative'. It appears that Twitter has some information which is not known to us, and on the basis of which they have classified it as such. This information is relevant to the enquiry. Special Cell which is conducting the enquiry wants to find out the truth. Twitter, which has claimed to know the underlying truth, should clarify," the police said in a statement.

At the core of the matter is Patra's tweet on May 18, shared by several leaders of the ruling party, which had screenshots of what he called a "Congress toolkit" aimed at discrediting PM Modi and the government for its handling of Covid. The Congress wrote to Twitter saying the alleged "toolkit" was fake and forged letterheads had been used in the screenshots in circulation. The opposition party also said it had filed FIRs against BJP leaders who had shared the documents.

There are other sticking points: The government recently wrote to Facebook and Twitter asking them to remove reference to the coronavirus after a country where they may have first surfaced. It turns out a similar request was made to the social media giant by Singapore as well. Singapore variant was complied with. However, the same was not done in the case of India.

On Thursday evening, Twitter marked Mr Patra's tweet as "manipulated media". The next day, the government wrote a stern letter asking Twitter to remove the tag as the "toolkit" was still being investigated. On Monday, the Delhi Police's Special Cell sent notice to Twitter citing a complaint on the alleged ''Congress toolkit'' and sought a clarification from the microblogging site for classifying Patra's tweet as "manipulative".

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Free Press Journal