Social media companies are gearing up for battle against India’s proposed internet guidelines that require them to actively monitor content. The new IT rules — which arrive amidst looming general elections — dictate that the likes of Facebook and Twitter must remove any unlawful content that can affect the “sovereignty and integrity of India” within 24 hours.
According to Reuters, lobby groups representing Facebook and other companies are working with law firms to draft objections to the guidelines to be filed with India’s IT ministry. Industry execs and local activists claim the proposed rules are another form of censorship and could be used to suppress dissent.
Mozilla slammed the changes last week as a “blunt and disproportionate” solution to the problem of harmful content online. But the IT ministry denied the accusations, claiming the guidelines are intended to make social media safer.
Efforts by WhatsApp are already underway to curb the spread of misinformation in India after fake news circulated via the Facebook-owned app spilled into real-world violence last year. The changes, introduced at the behest of the Indian government, spanned the labelling of forwarded messages and limiting the ability to forward texts to multiple chats at once.
WhatsApp also hired a grievance officer that users could contact directly and promised to set up a local presence. But it has refused to bow to the government’s demand urging it to track messages as it goes against its end-to-end encryption feature promising user privacy.
Similar laws have been enacted by other countries including Vietnam, which requires tech companies to store user data locally and remove offensive material within 24 hours. Germany also necessitates that hate speech be taken down within the same time frame, while Australia recently passed its anti-encryption bill into law despite protests from Apple.
India’s new draft rules are open to comments from the public until January 31st, after which they will be adopted as law.