What Twitter's non-compliance means for brands, users & the platform

Experts decode the fate of the microblogging platform in the wake of its failure to comply with the new IT rules

e4m by Tasmayee Laha Roy
Updated: Jun 17, 2021 2:30 PM
Twitter

The Union Minister of Information Technology Ravi Shankar Prasad took to Twitter on Wednesday to announce that the microblogging site "has failed to comply with the Intermediary Guidelines that came into effect from the 26th of May." But does losing intermediary status mean Twitter will be banned in India? Not quite. Here are some key questions answered. 

What would Twitter's non-compliance to Intermediary Guidelines result in?

Non-compliance for Twitter means they are at the risk of losing legal protections against liability for user-generated content. According to the Internet Freedom Foundation, the “intermediary status” is not a registration that is granted by the Government. “The present concerns arise from Rule 7 of the IT Rules, but Rule 7 only says that the provisions of Section 79 of the IT Act won’t apply to intermediaries that fail to observe the IT Rules. As per Section 79, intermediaries are immune from liability/penalty if they comply with legal takedown requests of user posts from courts & public authorities. As we explain, this is threatened by the IT Rules, 2021,” they explained.

What is Rule 7?

Non-Observance of Rules: When an intermediary fails to observe these rules, the provision of subsection one of section 79 of the act shall not be applicable to such intermediary. The intermediary (In this case, Twitter) shall be liable for punishment under any law for the time being in force including the provisions of the act and the Indian penal code.

What happens when Twitter is sued for any content on the platform?

Technology lawyer Mishi Choudhary explained, “As you and I create content on Twitter, not Twitter, the world over, the predominant consensus has been that it would be inequitable to hold them strictly accountable for unlawful user-generated content. So when sued for any content in Courts, Twitter can claim 1. I Twitter did not create this content. 2. When informed by a court order or Government order that it is unlawful, I removed it. So I am not liable.”

How does this impact their business?

“The loss of safe harbour will create unrest, it will be harder to appoint senior positions especially as the responsibility comes on the senior India executives, brands will be more cautious to start with. On the other hand, Twitter being a preferred medium for political commentary the escalation may just be around the corner. However until this escalates into an incident, current advertising plans may not be impacted much, if the loss of safety continues brands will take a conservative approach and shy away from engagement of Twitter. The spillover from heightened sentiments due to any incident may not be worth it,” said Ambika Sharma, Founder and MD, Pulp Strategy.

Most experts agreed that there will be no impact of this development on their business in India, be it the existing ones or the ones in the pipeline. Till the platform retains its user base, brands would not shy away from spending on it say experts.

“For brands, businesses, agencies and advertisers, this will not change anything for now. Amongst other legal challenges, Twitter will also need to think of its own brand perception. Brands will continue to leverage the platform as long as its user base continues to be as highly engaged as it is today. The change which has happened has to do with the responsibility of Twitter for any problematic content posted on the platform. Hence it's not likely that it will directly impact brands or their campaign spends. The deals will remain intact as long as there is no backlash or additional rulings coming their way,” said Siddharth Devnani, Co-Founder & Director, SoCheers.

According to Himanshu Arya, founder and CEO, Grapes Digital this is a wait and watch moment to see how things turn. “As a publisher, platforms will have to proactively censor content before they appear online. Twitter has a huge user base market in India, and they are quite aware of the fact that if they don’t comply with the rules soon, then it will affect them,” he said.

What Twitter has to say

"We are keeping the MeitY apprised of the progress at every step of the process. An interim Chief Compliance Officer has been retained and details will be shared with the Ministry directly. Twitter continues to make every effort to comply with the new Guidelines,” a Twitter spokesperson said.

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