After the recent witch hunt of Twitter, the Lok Sabha’s standing committee on Information Technology (IT) is reportedly planning to summon Facebook and WhatsApp to further the hearing on safeguarding citizens’ rights on social and online news media platforms. The standing committee of IT is chaired by a BJP MP, Anurag Singh.
Facebook and WhatsApp are reportedly expected to be called in March. The committee is currently focusing on vetting Twitter’s global executives on the upcoming hearing next Monday (February 25). The questioning for WhatsApp and its parent company Facebook will be slightly different from that of Twitter, considering the difference in target audience of the two social media giants. The questions will cover issues such as social media bias, citizen rights and a bit of data privacy in the expected hearing with Facebook and WhatsApp, a senior member of the parliamentary committee told ET.
According to the ET source, The panel wants to first understand Twitter as a company, whether it is a technology company or media house, where is it registered and what control measures can be affected.
The parliamentary committee had summoned Twitter on February 11 for a hearing on safeguarding citizen rights on social media platforms. The summon was sent in the aftermath of protests outside Twitter’s India office by a right-wing group ‘Youth for Social Media Democracy’. The group alleged Twitter of having a bias against right wing ideology. Twitter vice-president Colin Crowell denied these allegations in a blog post, which read, “Our product and policies are never developed nor evolved on the basis of political ideology.”
Further, Twitter executives cited short notice as a reason for not appearing in the February 11 parliamentary hearing. This irked the committee, which was reportedly exploring ways of express its displeasure, including declaring a breach of privilege. The parliamentary committee has now summoned Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to appear before the panel on February 25.
Last week, Indian Government has also asked WhatsApp to allow more insight of online discourse, even though it meant violating end-to-end encryption policy of the social messaging service. WhatsApp’s parent company, Facebook reportedly refused to comply with the Government’s demands, putting it in risk of facing shutdown in its largest market.
Meanwhile, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) has proposed a draft of amendments to Intermediary Guidelines, which would make content sharing platforms like WhatsApp liable for the content their users share. The draft also require intermediaries to trace the origin of ‘unlawful’ content and take down such content within 72 hours of government agency’s request. Also, the entities with a user of more than 50 Lakh users are required to incorporate under India’s company law and appoint a nodal officer for 24×7 assistance to coordination with law enforcement agencies and monitoring compliance under Indian law.
The draft was open for public comments till February 14. Asia Internet Coalition which represents Facebook and Twitter, strongly opposed the draft and said the Draft Rules are in violation with several principles upheld by the Supreme Court of India and the existing provisions of the IT Act.
[This development was first reported by ET]