Fb, WhatsApp and Twitter Face New Guidelines in India

India sets new rules for internet companies like Facebook Inc.,

FB -0.58%

WhatsApp and Twitter Inc.,

TWTR -1.71%

A new challenge for the American giants in a huge market that is the key to their global expansion.

The new guidelines, released Thursday, state that in order to counter the emergence of problematic online content such as false news and violent material, intermediaries must put in place “complaint resolution mechanisms” to resolve user complaints about postings and the Provide government names and contact details for “complainants” in companies. These officers must acknowledge complaints within one day and resolve them within 15 days.

Social media companies must remove material with explicitly sexual content within 24 hours of being flagged. Companies are also required to appoint officials and contact persons in India to coordinate with law enforcement and handle complaints. Some companies also need to help identify the “first originator” of some messages, the rules say.

“We appreciate the spread of social media in India,” said Ravi Shankar Prasad, India’s Minister for Electronics and Information Technology, on Thursday. “We want them to be more responsible and accountable,” he said.

The rules are New Delhi’s latest move to take control of global tech companies that have grown rapidly in a country of more than 1.3 billion. The rules also come during months of peasant protests against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government that sparked heated debates on social media. They have turned out to be the greatest political challenge for Mr Modi since he took power in 2014.

A farmer near police barricades blocking a highway on the outskirts of New Delhi on February 3.


Photo:

Anindito Mukherjee / Bloomberg News

Representatives from Facebook and WhatsApp did not immediately respond to requests for comments. A Twitter spokeswoman declined to comment.

The rules state that the government can implement a code of ethics for digital media and so-called over-the-top platforms, a term used for video streaming services like Netflix Inc.

A spokesman for Netflix declined to comment.

Twitter has blocked, unblocked, and then re-suspended hundreds of accounts over the past few weeks to post material New Delhi has classified as flammable after the government threatened the company with legal action. This could have resulted in the imprisonment of Twitter executives.

Last year, India banned TikTok, the video-sharing app from China’s ByteDance Ltd., along with dozens of other apps, citing cybersecurity concerns following a border dispute between troops from the two countries.

With global tech players pouring billions of dollars into India over the past few years to break into the country’s burgeoning digital economy, New Delhi has taken steps to contain their power.

The government has tightened ecommerce regulations, which is affecting the way Amazon.com works Inc.

and Walmart Inc.’s

Flipkart Group operate. Indian government officials have spoken about the need for data sovereignty in India and expressed a desire for indigenous tech startups like those in China, where American gamers are locked out, to flourish.

Governments around the world are exploring ways to regulate American tech companies more closely. Facebook reached an agreement with the Australian government on Tuesday to restore the news pages on its platform after a five-day ban amid disagreement over payment for content.

In the US, almost all attorneys general investigate Alphabet separately Inc.’s

Google, while three other tech giants – Facebook, Apple Inc.

and Amazon – are also facing an antitrust review. Technology giants are also facing new rules in the European Union.

“India is the world’s largest open internet company and the government welcomes social media companies that are doing business, doing business and making profits in India,” India’s IT ministry said in a statement on Thursday. “However, you must be accountable to the constitution and laws of India.”

Write to Newley Purnell at newley.purnell@wsj.com

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