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MP HC admits PIL against Facebook, Twitter over objectionable content

The Madhya Pradesh High Court (Indore bench) on Monday admitted a public interest litigation against social networks Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Twitter for hosting obscene, communal, unregulated and legally restricted content on their platforms.

The court issued notices to the Centre and the social media firms, seeking their responses in the plea filed by Maatr Foundation, an Indore-based non-governmental organisation.

The petition, which was filed in January, alleged that social media platforms are perpetrating communal hatred, hate crimes, economic offences, displaying content against religions, gods and goddesses and hosting sexually offensive content that was also accessible to minors.

It has sought for guidelines from the court to regulate such content, apart from seeking its intervention in ensuring that a legal mechanism is put in place, apart from the setting up of an ad hoc committee to frame guidelines on the subject.

The court has set July 12 as the next date of hearing.

The admission of the PIL in the Madhya Pradesh High Court comes at a time when several social media firms are at loggerheads with the government over India’s new IT rules, which came into effect on May 26.

The rules, which grant social media intermediaries such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter and Google protection from liability for content posted on their platforms, mandates them to trace the origin of messages on their platforms. It has also tasked them to appoint local officials to respond to user and government queries.

Facebook-owned WhatsApp, which is estimated to have over 400 million users in India, has sued the government, arguing that the traceability clause in the new IT rules put at risk its end-to-end encryption.

Twitter, which too is in a standoff with the government, said that it is making every effort to comply with the new rules and has sought time to fill the positions of chief grievance officer, chief compliance officer, etc.

Google has argued in the Delhi High Court that its search engine cannot be classified as a “significant social media intermediary” and hence it cannot be placed under the purview of the country’s revised IT rules. 24htech

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