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End Of Spat? IT Minister To Meet Social Media Officials After Parliament Monsoon Session

NEW DELHI: Following an extended public slugfest, there appear to be early signs of a thaw in relations, senior executives from social media intermediaries such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google are scheduled to meet officials from the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) as soon as the Monsoon session of Parliament concludes on August 13.

According to sources close to the situation, social media intermediaries are likely to point out a lack of an standard operating procedure (SOP) on the recently enacted Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code, also known as the IT Rules of 2021.

The intermediaries are also expected to detail the operational issues they have encountered since the new rules went into effect on May 26. They also intend to seek more clarity on certain issues, such as monthly reports.

The meetings will be the first official interaction between the new IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw and senior executives of social media companies, following multiple exchanges of notices and letters between the IT ministry and the intermediaries.

The conflict began in January when Twitter refused to fully comply with IT ministry orders requiring the platform to restrict access to certain content in India. Over the next five months, the appointment of executives to the positions of chief compliance officer, resident grievance officer, and nodal contact person, as well as the requirement to track the first originator of a message on instant messaging platforms, kept the ministry and intermediaries on opposing sides of a public spat.

Things appear to have calmed down since Vaishnaw took over, according to ministry officials, who indicated that the new mandate was to find solutions to ensure compliance rather than sending “angry notices.”

According to sources, while some intermediaries have yet to fully comply with the guidelines outlined in the IT Rules, there have been no warnings to comply immediately or face action.

“The government’s intention was to ensure that these intermediaries remained accountable to Indian law and systems, as well as to Indian users. We went through a major pandemic, and everything was out of the ordinary during the three months given to the intermediaries to schedule appointments. They did their best, so the practical approach would be to look for ways to collaborate now,” said a senior official from the IT ministry.

Senior executives working with social media intermediaries confirmed that things had indeed calmed down in the last two weeks. “Our intention was always to follow the rules. However, whenever new rules or laws are implemented, there will always be some operational and logistical issues. During the months of March and June of this year, Covid hosted more than three-quarters of our India team. We had no choice but to postpone everything,” an executive with one of the social media intermediaries said on condition of anonymity.

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