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Center reviewing appeal panel with power to overrule social media content moderation decisions

The Center announced this week that it plans to set up an appeal board with veto power to overturn content moderation decisions by social media companies, after it withdrew draft IT rules revisions. If approved, it will be the first time in the world that a country has created an appeal body of this nature.

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology made the announcement in a press release, that the government is now seeking public consultation and feedback from all stakeholders for the next 30 days on the project. proposed amendment “in Part-I and Part-II of the IT Rules, 2021”.

According to the proposal, the government intends to make changes to the 2021 Information Technology Rules (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Code of Ethics). Several high courts have already suspended the guidelines, known as the IT Rules, 2021 after they were challenged as unconstitutional.

It should be noted that by number of users, India is the largest market for YouTube and Facebook, as well as a key foreign region for Twitter. Under current law, content moderation decisions made by social media giants like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter can only be challenged in court.

According to the proposed new accountability standards: “The objectives of these rules are to ensure an open, safe, reliable and responsible internet for all Indian internet users and digital Nagriks. These rules have succeeded in creating a new sense of responsibility among intermediaries towards their users, especially within Big Tech platforms.

The proposed changes also include a 72-hour period for companies to respond to complaints if they fall under one of the government’s 10 types of violations, which include copyright violations, defamatory content and false information.

The main concerns, however, relate to the Grievance Redress Board – a panel where users can challenge any decisions made by social media companies regarding the removal of content or a user’s access to the service.

“Every order made by the Grievance Appeals Committee must be complied with by the relevant intermediary,” the proposed rules say.

Google, Twitter, Meta and many other companies have already fully or partially implemented the IT rules that came into force last year. The laws also require major social media platforms that offer encrypted messaging services to create a way to trace the sender of communications in unusual circumstances.

This condition has not been met by a number of companies, including Facebook’s WhatsApp and Signal. But last year, the government reprimanded Twitter for failing to ban several accounts and posts the Center considered offensive. The uproar erupted after the company’s top executive resigned to take up a different position within the company.

While giving a 30-day window to the committee to make a decision on the appeal, it was said in the recent release that it is proposed to establish an appeals body called “”Grievance Appeals Committee” in under Rule 3(3) of the IT Rules 2021 invoking Section 79 of the IT Act in view of such further guidance as may be prescribed by Central Government”.

“Users will have the ability to appeal against the grievance process of intermediaries before this new appeal body. The Committee will endeavor to process the user’s appeal within 30 days. This is necessitated as there is currently no appeal mechanism provided by intermediaries nor any credible self-regulatory mechanism in place,” the statement added.

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