Ravi Shankar Prasad says social media platforms should follow Indian law; warns of strict action against non-compliance
Photo Credit: ANI

New Delhi: Strict action would be taken against social media platforms that are found violating the law of the land, spreading fake news and stoking violence, Law and Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad asserted in the Rajya Sabha on Thursday.

"You will have to follow the Constitution, you will have to abide by the laws,’’ the minister said, singling out Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and WhatsApp. He said these platforms have millions of followers in India and they are free to do business and make money, but they cannot be allowed to circumvent the provisions of the Indian Constitution and the laws.

It is understood that the government has readied draft rules to regulate social media, OTT platforms and news-related websites. This will entail creation of a self-regulatory mechanism involving filing of regular compliance reports.

This, in turn, will necessitate the appointment for a chief compliance officer who will respond on a 24x7 basis to any complaint from law enforcement agencies and submit regular reports on compliance. At the same time, there will be a grievance redressal mechanism portal and an oversight mechanism, sources told NDTV.

The oversight mechanism will be developed by the government, which will "coordinate adherence to a Code of Ethics by publishers and self-regulating bodies". 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, it is proposed. Sites will have 36 hours to remove content flagged either by a court or a designated body.

Giving an idea of the thinking in government circles, Prasad told the House that social media platforms were adhering to dual standards: They had allowed circulation of hate messages, following the violence on Republic Day, but the same platforms had followed a restrictive policy following the violence at Capitol Hill in the United States.

There cannot be two standards, one in the United States and another in India, Prasad said, adding that the time has come to tell those running popular social media platforms that they have to abide by the laws of the land and that the transgressors will be punished alike other criminals.

The government had ticked off Twitter on Wednesday for not complying with its order to take down accounts that it alleges are spreading misinformation about farmers' protests. Twitter said in a public blog post that it had not fully complied with the government's order because it believed some of the blocking orders were not consistent with Indian law. It said it would not block accounts of journalists, activists, and politicians.

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