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Twitter may have lost its intermediary status

While the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) has given more time to Twitter to comply with the new IT rules, this raises uncertainty on whether the micro-blogging site continues to be a social media intermediary, since the original deadline of May 26 has not been amended.

As per the regulations, if a company failed to comply before the deadline, it loses its intermediary status. This means instead of being considered just a platform hosting content from various users, Twitter will be directly editorially responsible for the posts published on its platform.

“During this extension period when Twitter is not in compliance, if a case against it is raised in the court by a third party, the platform would have trouble explaining their intermediary status. Just government extending time for Twitter won’t work when it comes to interpreting the latter’s status before a court,” said Prasanth Sugathan, Legal Director, Software Freedom Law Centre, told BusinessLine.

“Unless there’s an amendment in the rule itself mentioning the extension of the deadline for compliance, it won’t help Twitter in case of litigation. Only the government’s order won’t work. l learnt that other platforms had also requested for extension, but nothing came out before May 26,” Sugathan added.

Experts believe that MeitY will have to announce an extension of time for everyone through an amendment in the notified IT rules. “I will not be surprised if a general extension of time happens as a lot of intermediaries have requested for the same citing Covid restrictions and the limited resources to go and hire people as grievance and nodal officers,” said Avimukt Dar, partner, IndusLaw, told BusinessLine.

New IT rules
The new IT rules require major social media intermediaries, with over 50 lakh users, to appoint a grievance officer, nodal officer, and a chief compliance officer. The personnel has to be residing in India.

“From the information in the public domain, there appears to have been confusion between Twitter and the government in understanding what kind of person is a grievance officer in terms of employment status. Twitter had appointed a lawyer from a law firm as a grievance officer and the government disagreed on the interpretation of rules and felt that the officer should be an employee of the company. Because of this the government may have felt obliged to allow Twitter some extension,” Dar explained.

There is also uncertainty over WhatsApp’s status because it has also not complied with the required of tracing original send of messages. But WhatsApp has appealed against the IT rule in the Delhi High Court.

“Loss of intermediary status and immunity would have significant consequences for the ecosystem because not just the government but the user too could file complaints and lawsuits against the platforms leading to justice system being clogged up,” IndusLaw’s Dar added. The Hindu BusinessLine

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