Twitter loses its intermediary status in India, can be sued for unlawful content

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Twitter is no longer classified as an intermediary in India and will now be treated as a publisher due to its non-compliance with the new Information Technology Rules which came into force on May 26. The laws required the appointment of statutory officers by all social media companies, which Twitter failed to do so even after multiple opportunities from the government. Due to this change, Twitter and its officials have lost their immunity and safety net and will now be liable for the actions of users on its platform.

Government officials say they have not received any information about the appointment of a Chief Compliance Officer from the company. Twitter on its part says it has appointed an interim Chief Compliance Officer in India but has not yet shared the details with the IT ministry which it plans to do soon. The government has also taken notice of Twitter not publishing the name of its CCO on its website. Although none of the social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube, have this published with only the names of its grievance officers available in the public domain.

Several journalists, political leaders, and Twitter have already been named in a First Information Report (FIR) on June 15th after an elderly Muslim was reportedly beaten up on June 5th in a town in Uttar Pradesh’s Ghaziabad, and the video of the abuse went viral on Twitter.

Section 79 of the IT Act in India protects companies like Twitter from any repercussions from the actions of its users on its platform by classifying them as an "intermediary" instead of a publisher. For the users, Twitter losing this legal protection will have no effect. However the Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) says that the "intermediary" status is not something that has been granted by the Government of India, but it's inbuilt protection given by the law, and as such, the government cannot make the change in distinction.

Twitter and the Government of India have not been seeing eye to eye for some time now. The government, on several occasions, forced Twitter to take down certain tweets including those criticizing the government's COVID-19 response. The government even sent a team from Delhi Police's Special Cell to raid and search at Twitter India's office in Delhi/NCR, which was later called a routine inspection. Twitter in its retaliation removed the blue tick from the handle of Vice Presidents of India's account, which it later restored.

Source: Ravi Prasad (IT Minister, India) via HindustanTimes

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