Social media firms to be held liable for advertisements, commissioned content

social media new rules, social media liable for ads, government drafting laws on social media content

Social media firms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and TikTok will soon be held liable for advertisements and commissioned content on their platforms. They would also be required to specifically tag such content for clear distinction between them and user-generated content.

According to the new intermediary guidelines — under works and expected to be notified next month — these platforms will not get any immunity for sponsored content. This means they would be liable for action under relevant laws if anything unlawful is hosted on their platform.

Social media firms usually have three kinds of content —user-generated, advertisements or promoted, and commissioned content. “Apart from the user-generated content, the firms will not get immunity from prosecution in case any content is found unlawful at any point of time. Also, the firms should indicate whether the content is user-generated, or advertisement or commissioned content,” an official said.

The changes are part of the amendments to the information technology (IT) intermediary guidelines made by the ministry of electronics and information technology (MeitY). The law ministry is currently vetting the rules following which the new guidelines will be notified.

A draft of the revised intermediary guidelines was put for consultation on December 24, 2018, but the clause regarding content was not mentioned. As per the current rules, a company having intermediary status cannot own or produce content.

Regarding unlawful content, the revised guidelines propose that companies would need to comply with government’s direction in providing information and assistance within 36 hours and remove it.

The companies have to provide information about originator of the unlawful content. The original draft had mentioned 72 hours for compliance, which was termed too long by many experts.

Once the rules are notified, instant messaging apps like WhatsApp have to provide traceability or originator of the messages on their platforms.

The government is also considering the option to link social media accounts with active mobile number of users but is yet to be decided if it would be optional or made mandatory. The revised guidelines are an attempt by the government to make social media firms more accountable. The government has on many occasions reiterated that while it is committed to freedom of speech and expression and privacy of its citizens; instances of misuse of social media by criminals has brought new challenges which need to be tackled.

The revised rules also propose that platforms need to deploy automated tools to remove, disable access to unlawful information or content. The new rules will apply to social media platforms having more than 5 million users and they need to have a permanent registered office in India and appoint a nodal point of contact for 24×7 coordination with law enforcement agencies.