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India sets stricter rules for social media giants

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Stricter takedown policies and more customer support

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

India has announced new regulations for social networks and other web services in the country, particularly “significant social media” companies with large user bases, like Facebook and Twitter.

India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY) announced the rules earlier today. They require social media companies to establish a “grievance redressal mechanism” for users, including official “grievance officers” who acknowledge complaints within 24 hours and resolve them within 15 days. Services must also remove nudity and sexually explicit content within 24 hours of a user flagging it.

“Significant social media intermediaries” face additional responsibilities. These companies must appoint India-based officials that work with law enforcement and publish a monthly report on their moderation activity.

“Significant” messaging-focused services must also be ready to identify the “first originator” of a message — a regulation likely aimed at Facebook’s highly popular WhatsApp service. Indian regulators have previously asked WhatsApp to identify the sources of anonymous rumors that have sparked violence, but WhatsApp has argued this would compromise its end-to-end encryption.

The framework also indicates that MEITY can regulate digital media services, including video streaming platforms, and require digital news services to follow the official “norms of journalistic conduct” observed by traditional media outlets.

As reported by The Wall Street Journal, MEITY head Ravi Shankar Prasad said the rules were meant to make social media companies “more responsible and more accountable” for content on their platforms. American social media companies have struggled to navigate problems with violence, hate speech, and political conflict in India. Facebook’s local policy chief Ankhi Das resigned last year under pressure from activists, and earlier this month, Twitter clashed with MEITY over an order to block activists who criticized India’s government.

India has tightened its overall regulation of foreign web companies over the past year. In June 2020, it banned TikTok and other Chinese social apps, citing a threat to “national sovereignty.” TikTok reduced its staff in India last month, a move characterized as “essentially withdrawing” from the country.