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Twitter, Facebook, Others Will Have to Abide by Local Laws, Says Minister

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The new amendments to IT rules impose a legal obligation on social media companies to take all out efforts to prevent barred content and misinformation, the government said on Saturday making it clear that platforms such as Twitter and Facebook operating in India will have to abide by local laws and constitutional rights of Indian users.

The new rules provide for setting up appellate committees which can overrule decisions of the big tech firms on takedown or blocking requests.

The hardening of stance against the big tech companies comes at a time when discontent has been brewing over alleged arbitrary acts of social media platforms on flagged content, or not responding fast enough to grievances.

Amid concerns over the rising clout of Big Tech globally, the CEO of electric car maker Tesla, Elon Musk, on Friday completed his $44 billion (roughly Rs. 3,62,300 crore) takeover of Twitter, placing the world’s richest man at the helm of one of the most influential social media apps in the world. Incidentally, the microblogging platform has had multiple run-ins with the government in the past.

India’s tweaking of IT rules allow formation of Centre-appointed panels, that will settle often-ignored user grievances against content decision of social media companies, Minister of State for IT Rajeev Chandrasekhar said, adding that this was necessitated due to the “casual” and “tokenism” approach of digital platforms towards user complaints so far.

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“That is not acceptable,” Chandrasekhar said at a media briefing explaining the amended rules.

The minister said that lakhs of messages around unresolved user complaints reflected the “broken” grievance redressal mechanism currently being offered by platforms, and added that while it will partner with social media companies towards common goal of ensuring Internet remains open, safe and trusted for Indians, the government will not hesitate to act, crackdown, where public interest is compromised.

See also  Twitter Revives Misinformation Rules, Features Ahead of US Midterm Elections

On whether penalties will be imposed on platforms for not complying, he said the government would not like to bring punitive action at this stage but warned that if the situation demands in future, that could be considered too. The internet is evolving, as will the laws.

“We are not getting to the business of punity, but there is an opinion that there should be punitive penalties for those platforms not following rules…it is an area we have steered clear of, but that is not to say it is not on our mind,” he cautioned.

The tighter IT norms raises due diligence and accountability of platforms to fight illegal content proactively (government has added deliberate misinformation to that list too), with a 72-hour window to take down flagged content. So far, intermediaries were only required to inform users about not uploading certain categories of harmful or unlawful content.

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“The obligations of intermediaries earlier was limited to notifying users of the rules but now there will be much more definite obligation on platforms. Intermediaries have to make efforts that no unlawful content is posted on platform,” the minister said.

These amendments impose a legal obligation on intermediaries to take reasonable efforts to prevent users from uploading such content, an official release said.

Simply put, the new provision will ensure that the intermediary’s obligation is not a “mere formality”.

“In the category of obligation we have added misinformation…intermediary should not be party to not just illegal content, but they can’t be party to any deliberate misinformation as content on platforms. Misinformation not just about media it is about advertising…illegal products and services, online betting, misinformation can be in fintech community, misrepresenting products and services. Misinformation also refers to false information about person or entity,” the minister said.

For effective outreach, communication of the rules and regulations will have to be done in regional Indian languages by platforms.

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The government has, in the new rules, added objectionable religious content (with intent to incite violence) alongside pornography, trademark infringements, fake information and something that could be a threat to sovereignty of the nation that users can flag to social media platforms.

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The words ‘defamatory’ and ‘libellous’ have been removed; whether any content is defamatory or libellous will be determined through judicial review.

Some of the content categories have been rephrased to deal particularly with misinformation, and content that could incite violence between different religious/caste groups (that is information promoting enmity between different groups on the grounds of religion or caste with the intent to incite violence).

The rules come in the backdrop of complaints regarding the action/inaction on the part of the intermediaries on user grievances regarding objectionable content or suspension of their accounts.

“The intermediaries now will be expected to ensure that there is no uploading of content that intentionally communicates any misinformation or information that is patently false or untrue hence entrusting an important responsibility on intermediaries,” the official release said.

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The rules also have made it explicit for the intermediary to respect the rights accorded to the Indian citizens under the Articles 14 (non-discrimination), 19 (freedom of speech, subject to certain restrictions) and 21 (right to privacy) of the Indian Constitution.

In a strong message to Big Tech companies, the minister asserted that community guidelines of platforms – regardless of whether they are headquartered in the US, Europe, or elsewhere – cannot undermine constitutional rights of Indians, when such platforms operate in India. Chandrasekhar said platforms will have obligation to remove within 72 hours of flagging, any “misinformation” or illegal content or content that promotes enmity between different groups on the grounds of religion or caste with the intent to incite violence. He said that effort should be to take down illegal content “as fast as possible”.

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The complaints around illegal content could range from child sexual abuse material to nudity to trademark and patent infringements, misinformation, impersonation of another person, content threatening the unity and integrity of the country as well as “objectionable” content that promotes “enmity between different groups on the grounds of religion or caste with the intent to incite violence”.

The modalities defining the structure and scope of Grievance Appellate Committees will be worked out soon, he promised adding that the process will start with 1-2 such panels, which will be expanded based on requirements. The panels will not have suo moto powers.

“Government is not interested in playing role of ombudsman. It is a responsibility we are taking reluctantly, because the grievance mechanism is not functioning properly,” the minister said. The idea is not to target any company or intermediary or make things difficult for them. The government sees internet and online safety as a shared responsibility of all, the minister noted.

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It is pertinent to mention that big social media platforms have drawn flak in the past over hate speech, misinformation and fake news circulating on their platforms, and there have been persistent calls to make them more accountable. Microblogging platform Twitter has had several confrontations with the government over a slew of issues.

The government, in February 2021, notified IT rules that provided for social media platforms to appoint a grievance officer. Non compliance with IT rules result in these social media companies losing their intermediary status that provides them exemptions from liabilities for any third party information and data hosted by them.


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What Are WhatsApp Polls and How Do You Use Them? All You Need to Know

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WhatsApp’s new features and updates which have rolled out over the past few months have made the messaging experience much better. Now, WhatsApp users can even create polls in personal and group chats to see what their friends and contacts think. Both iOS and Android users can use this feature. A poll could help take the opinions of group members on any topic or idea, or could be useful for making plans quickly. Just like your chats, the responses you send to a poll question will be protected by end-to-end encryption. At the moment, Telegram and Facebook Messenger allow group polls. You can easily start using this new WhatsApp feature on your smartphone.

Here is How to Create a WhatsApp Poll

Step 1: Update WhatsApp to the latest version

Step 2: Open the private or group chat in which you want to create a poll

Step 3: For Android, tap on the paper clip icon at the bottom of the screen. For iOS, select the plus (+) icon at the bottom of the screen.

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Step 4: Select ‘Poll’

Step 5: Type the question you want to ask, along with response options

Step 6: Finally, tap on ‘Send’ to share the poll

Up to twelve response options can be offered to recipients for each poll, and these are not time-bound. Users can also see the responses selected by others by tapping on ‘View votes’.

The Meta-owned messaging app has recently worked on several updates, rolling out new tools including the Call Link feature, the ability to message yourself, and Companion Mode. While some of these new features are not available to all users at the moment, WhatsApp does plan to make them accessible to everyone in the coming days. The most recent and talked-about feature apart from WhatsApp polls is Communities. These allow users to have separate groups under one “Community” to organize large conversations.

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“With Communities, we’re aiming to raise the bar for how organizations communicate with a level of privacy and security not found anywhere else. The alternatives available today require trusting apps or software companies with a copy of their messages – and we think they deserve the higher level of security provided by end-to-end encryption,” stated WhatsApp in a blog post.

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Elon Musk Calls Donald Trump’s Twitter Ban ‘Grave Mistake’, Condemns Violence

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Twitter’s ban on then President Donald Trump after January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol by his supporters was a “grave mistake” that had to be corrected, Chief Executive Elon Musk said on Friday, although he also stated that incitement to violence would continue to be prohibited on Twitter.

“I’m fine with Trump not tweeting. The important thing is that Twitter correct a grave mistake in banning his account, despite no violation of the law or terms of service,” Musk said in a tweet. “Deplatforming a sitting President undermined public trust in Twitter for half of America.”

Last week, Musk announced the reactivation of Trump’s account after a slim majority voted in a Twitter poll in favor of reinstating Trump, who said, however, that he had no interest in returning to Twitter. He added he would stick with his own social media site Truth Social, the app developed by Trump Media & Technology Group.

Republican Trump, who 10 days ago announced he was running for election again in 2024, was banned on January 8, 2021, from Twitter under its previous owners.

At the time, Twitter said it permanently suspended him because of the risk of further incitement of violence following the storming of the Capitol. The results of the November 2020 presidential election won by Democrat Joe Biden were being certified by lawmakers when the Capitol was attacked after weeks of false claims by Trump that he had won.

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Trump repeatedly used Twitter and other sites to falsely claim there had been widespread voter fraud, and had urged supporters to march on the Capitol in Washington to protest.

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The attack is being investigated by US prosecutors and a congressional committee.

Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday on Musk’s statement that Trump did not violate any Twitter terms of service when his account was suspended.

Earlier on Friday, Musk tweeted that calling for violence or incitement to violence on Twitter would result in suspension, after saying on Thursday that Twitter would provide a “general amnesty” to suspended accounts that had not broken the law or engaged in spam.

Replying to a tweet, Musk said it was “very concerning” that Twitter had taken no action earlier to remove some accounts related to the far-left Antifa movement. In response to another tweet asking if Musk considered the statement “trans people deserve to die” as worthy of suspension from the platform, the billionaire said: “Absolutely”.

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Change and chaos have marked Musk’s first few weeks as Twitter’s owner. He has fired top managers and it was announced that senior officials in charge of security and privacy had quit.

© Thomson Reuters 2022


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WhatsApp Reportedly Testing Voice Status Update for iOS Beta: All Details

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WhatsApp, the Meta-owned instant messaging app, is reportedly working on a feature that will let iOS users share voice notes in their status updates. As of now, the users can only share pictures, videos and links in their WhatsApp status. However, once the new feature will be rolled out, WhatsApp users on iOS will be reportedly able to share voice notes or voice clips as well in their status updates on the app. According to the report, the messaging platform is testing the feature on iOS Beta for an upcoming update.

According to a report by WhatsApp development tracker WABetaInfo, WhatsApp users on iOS will be able to share a voice note of up to 30 seconds alongside text in their status updates, similar to what they can currently do in a WhatsApp chat.

The report has also shared a screengrab of the same, hinting at the upcoming feature, which shows a microphone icon on the bottom of the text status.

WhatsApp on iOS users will be required to click on the microphone icon and record their voice to upload it as their status update. They can even add text to it, if needed. It is worth noting that the voice status updates will only be shared with the people selected in the privacy settings. Also, these voice notes will always be end-to-end encrypted.

Not only iOS, but this ability is said to be also being tested in WhatsApp beta for Android’s upcoming update. As of now, this feature is still under development, so it would be very early to say anything.

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Meanwhile, WhatsApp recently rolled out WhatsApp Polls to users on both Android and iOS. The Polls feature was introduced alongside ‘Communities’, a feature that allows users to have separate groups under one umbrella to organise group conversations. WhatsApp Polls lets users create polls within the group with the ability to vote. Facebook Messenger and Telegram currently allow users to add group polls. WhatsApp’s poll feature will be protected by end-to-end encryption.

See also  Twitter Revives Misinformation Rules, Features Ahead of US Midterm Elections

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