Social media companies should not “lecture” India on democracy and freedom of speech, Union Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said at an event on Saturday, PTI reported. He asserted that these companies will have to follow Indian laws if they were to do business in the country.

Prasad’s comment came amid a tussle between social media firms and the Centre on the new Information Technology rules that were introduced in February and came to effect last month. The rules are a sweeping set of regulations framed to regulate social media companies, streaming and digital news content, virtually bringing them, for the first time, under the ambit of government supervision.

Addressing a lecture on the topic ‘Social Media & Social Security and Criminal Justice System Reforms: An Unfinished Agenda’, Prasad, defended the new rules, suggesting they do not deal with the use of social media, but with its “abuse and misuse”.

Outlining the major regulations, the Union minister said that the rules require social media companies to set up an India-based grievance redressal officer, compliance officer and a nodal officer.

“These are basic requirements,” Prasad said. “Let me reiterate emphatically that India does not need a lecture on freedom of speech and democracy from a profit-making company that stays in America. India has free and fair elections, an independent judiciary, media, civil society...So these profit-making companies should not lecture us on democracy.”

He questioned the social media platforms, and compared them with Indian companies doing business in the United States who “follow American laws”.

“You [social media companies] earn good money, good profits as India is a digital market, there is no problem,” Prasad said. “Criticise the prime minister, criticise me, ask tough questions, but why would you not obey Indian laws? If you want to do business in India, you have to follow India’s Constitution and India’s laws.”

Rules do not conform with international human rights, say UN officials

Meanwhile, United Nations Special Rapporteurs have written to the Indian government saying that the new rules do not conform with international human rights, The Times of India reported on Sunday.

In a communication sent to the government on June 11, three special rapporteurs from the UN expressed “serious concerns” with certain parts of the legislation, and said that “due diligence obligations” placed on intermediaries may lead to “infringement of a wide range of human rights”, the Mint reported.

The UN officials asked the Indian government to carry out a detailed review of the rules and consult on them with all relevant stakeholders.