India will hold wide consultations with internet companies before finalising rules to regulate content on social media but will not hold back from framing laws that safeguard national interest, the country's technology minister said.
India, one of the world's biggest internet markets, in late December proposed rules that will compel platforms such as Facebook, its WhatsApp messenger service and Twitter to remove within 24 hours unlawful content, such as anything that affects the “sovereignty and integrity of India".
The draft rules have prompted intense lobbying by technology companies, which say the proposals "impose burdensome obligations".
The rules, if implemented in their current form, are also likely to raise costs for companies by requiring them to monitor online content around the clock.
New Delhi, which is in the process of finalising the so-called intermediary rules, will be fair to all stakeholders, technology minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told reporters on the sidelines of an IT conference in the financial capital of Mumbai on Wednesday.
"We'll be fair, we'll be objective, but India's sovereign right to frame rules and laws will always be there," he said.
The draft rules also come at a time when India, the world's largest democracy, heads for a general election before May and social media becomes a hotbed for circulation of fake political news.
Social media giant Facebook this month said it is toughening its advertising policies to create more transparency ahead of the vote. It also expanded its fact-checking network.
Rival Google has also conducted scores of workshops across the country to train journalists to verify news.
"As a minister, I want to assure that a social media company shall not be allowed to abuse the data of Indians to influence elections," Prasad said.
© Thomson Reuters 2019