Hyderabad: There have been several viral posts circulating on social media stating that the government is planning to ban social media apps.
"Indian government is looking to ban Twitter, Facebook and Instagram if they fail to follow the New Social media rules in the next two days. Due to this an app called Meme Chat has increased over 1 million downloads! It serves content to all Indian audiences in the form of Memes and the best part is they're paying people to make funny jokes/memes! This is the true Digital India," reads a claim on Instagram.
The second claim being forwarded on WhatsApp groups said: "Twitter, Facebook may not be able to operate in India from May 26th. The deadline to comply with the new legal rules meant for big social media platforms issued by the government three months ago is ending (sic)".
Both the claims are misleading. They talk about the government of India banning social networking apps and the deadlines. One of the claims also talks about the popularity of the Meme chat app after the introduction of the new IT rules.
Claim 1:- The central government is planning to ban Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
The claim is False. On February 25, 2021, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology came up with the New IT rules with the aim of protecting the sovereignty and integrity of India by regulating the content shared on social networking sites. In a report by the Hindu, the central government requires social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to take down messages within a specific time frame, set up grievance redressal mechanism as well as assist government agencies in investigation.
The report by the Hindu also stated that, the Electronics and IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad in a press release said that the basic essence of 'The Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 is a "soft–touch oversight" mechanism to deal with issues such as the persistent spread of fake news, abuse of these platforms to share morphed images of women and contents related to revenge porn or to settle corporate rivalries. (Click here to view the New IT rules by The Hindu).
The Hindustan Times reported about what Electronics and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said in the press release.
A detailed version of the press meet on the New IT rules by the Press information bureau can be viewed here.
Hence, non-compliance with the guidelines would not lead to apps being banned but it would result social media companies losing their intermediary status that provides them exemptions and specific immunity from liabilities for any third-party information and data hosted by them. To sum it up, they could be liable for action.
The claim also talks about Meme chat. It is true that Meme chat users and downloads have increased but it is not due to the current IT guidelines scenario.
An article was published by "entrepreneur.com" in January 2021 (before IT minister's press conference) about IT rules. It stated that Meme chat has received global investments and funding, which shows that the App Meme Chat was prominent even before IT rules were formulated. However, it is true that the App pays the content creators for their memes.
Claim 2:- Social Media Apps like Twitter and Facebook not being able to operate after 26th May 2021
The second social media claim talks about Twitter and Facebook not being able to operate in India from May 26th. The claim is false. We have noticed that both the Social networking sites were functioning even after 26th May 2021. However, according to the latest updates, we have seen that Facebook and Google have complied with the New IT rules. A report by the Indian Express states that a spokesperson from Facebook accepted the new IT rules and said that Facebook will abide by the new set of guidelines.
The report by Indian Express also mentions that Google has refined its ways and we further see that Google has also accepted the new set of IT rules. In a report by live mint, Google chief executive, Sundar Pichai, has reiterated the company's plans to comply with India's new Intermediary Rules.
However, Twitter and WhatsApp are yet to comply with the new rules. The claim also stated that the deadline to comply with the new legal rules meant for big social media platforms issued by the government three months ago is ending today. This is true, the deadline of three months that the government set on 25th February 2021 ends on 26th May 2021.
Conclusion: Hence both claims are partly true and partly false. The Apps are not being banned. However, not complying with the new IT rules can lead to them losing the intermediary status that provides them exemptions and specific immunity from liabilities for any third-party information and data hosted by them. To sum it up, they could be liable for action.