Indrani Sen: Indian Social media in 2019: “Big Brother” to watch over users

14 Jan,2019

By Indrani Sen

2019 will go down in the history of Indian social media as the year when the “Big Brother” started watching over Indian social media and the users lost to a large extent their rights to privacy and freedom of expressing their thoughts. As we get ready for the general elections in May 2019, the Indian government is planning to change its IT rules to control fake news and curb spread of misinformation under the pretext of maintaining the “sovereignty and integrity of India”.

The changes in the IT rules proposed by the Information and Technology Ministry towards the end of December, 2018 and open to public comment till January 31, 2019 have sparked some protests from civil rights activists and ensued debates among select experts in cyber media law regarding its scope and interpretations. We have seen fresh news reports over the last couple of days about global social media and technology companies getting ready for legal actions against the proposed regulations.

The new rules, when implemented, would compel all social media platforms to remove unlawful content, such as anything that affected the “sovereignty and integrity of India” within 24 hours. It calls for 24X7 surveillance of 100% of the posts, comments, chats, etc. by all users of social media in India which is estimated to be close to half a billion.  If implemented, this will increase the cost of operations of the social media platforms which eventually will affect the consumers apart from depriving them of their rights to privacy and freedom of expressions as mentioned earlier. The safe harbour protection currently available to intermediaries, which is an integral part of the way the social media business is run, is under threat of removal under the proposed rules.


Please see the link  for details of the proposed rules, a glimpse of which is shown below.




Indian social media was all set for a roller coaster ride in 2019. Read an article on January 3 in by Vijay Shenoy, AVP Operations South, WatConsult, highlighting four trends that we can expect to see in social media during 2019: moment marketing, video marketing, applications of augmented reality and influencer marketing in a mobile first Indian market with estimated 258.27 million social network users. The global trends showed that Facebook will have a strong growth of users from Asia-Pacific region headed by India with US accounting for only 10% of Facebook’s global base. Instagram and Snapchat are both expected to grow globally in 2019 and again India will be contributing substantially to their growths.

In a report on the forecasts and predictions for social media in US in 2019,  commented “We expect an explosion of stories and vertical video across the digital landscape. That will lead to the inevitable swing of the pendulum toward backlash and questioning about stories’ effectiveness. Facebook will work hard to promote the format to users and advertisers, but the feed will remain the dominant way users use the app”. In India we are already seeing Facebook and Snapchat investing in the original video content and introducing new tools and features for their users.

In 2018, social media giants had started actively implementing certain steps against fake news and misinformation generated by users. Managing the election-related interference in 2019 is an uphill task and Facebook announced in October 2018 that they are establishing a task force in India to ensure that users do not abuse their platform. Now the proposed “censoring” of all social media content by the Indian Government with a very steep implementation dead line of removing the “undesirable content” has baffled all social media owners and as per various reports in media they are busy taking legal opinions on the proposed amendments in Indian IT rules.


The users of social media in India have not yet woken up to the full implications of the rules on their rights of privacy and freedom of expressing their thoughts. We have also not seen much of expert opinions expressed on the topic across different media. In 2016 when Facebook proposed their plan for introducing “Free Basics” in India, we had witnessed much more uproar in our public domain. This proposed amendment in our IT rules has far more serious long-term implications, but strangely till now there have been very little public views with 18 days left for commenting on the same.



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