Media platforms

Government seeks better control over moderation of content on social media platforms

In what could be the first initiative of its kind in the world, the Indian government is seeking to better control the moderation of content on social media platforms.

In a draft notice released on Thursday, the government sought comments from intermediary (social media) companies for changes to Parts I and II of the IT Rules, 2021, related to the establishment of a committee(s) of call. with the power to overrule these companies’ content moderation decisions.

Ambiguous & expensive

According to industry veterans and lawyers, such rule changes are ambiguous and onerous for intermediaries. Also, the amendments, if passed, would imply that the final say on what should remain on the platform rests with the government rather than the social media companies, which may not be acceptable to them. they stated.

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) posted the draft notification on its website to take it down after a few hours. However, sources at the ministry said it would be uploaded again after “some corrections”. although the changes do not affect the substantive content of the notification

MeitY invited comments on the draft notification until June 22.

“If MeitY was doing a review, the traceability rule should have been taken up first. Unfortunately this does not appear to have been done. The additions to Rule 3 are ambiguous,” said NS Nappinai, Supreme Court attorney and founder of Cyber ​​Saathi. Activity area.

dispose of calls

According to the Notice of Change to the Information Technology Rules 2021 (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Code of Ethics for Digital Media), the government panel must decide on appeals within 30 days of receipt and decision will be binding for intermediaries or large social networks. relevant media companies.

“While the appointment of a Grievance Appeals Forum may be welcome from a user perspective, it may be objected to as this addition is being made through delegated legislation instead of ‘a law enacted by Parliament,’ Nappinai said.

The proposed decision also has significance in the context of instances of accounts, including those of celebrities, being blocked by social media platforms such as Twitter for alleged violation of respective Community Guidelines.

“The proposed changes to IT rules subject most content moderation decisions made by online platforms to government oversight. If enacted, the government will be able to reinstate content that online platforms have removed in accordance with their content policies. The final say on what should stay on the platform now belongs to the Center rather than the social media companies,” said Gurshabad Grover, a Bengaluru-based technologist and legal researcher. Activity area.

Additionally, based on public complaints, the government will be able to order social media platforms to remove content based on vague descriptors such as “obscene”, “pornographic”, “defamatory”, “racist or ethnically objectionable”, a he declared.

Indirect control

“It should be noted here that some of these terms are not defined as criminal acts of expression in the Indian Penal Code or any other law. Thus, the government will indirectly gain the power to censor material that it otherwise could not do in a manner consistent with the law and the Constitution,” Grover added.

The rules for social media companies came into effect on May 26, 2021, which mandated major social media platforms like Meta (formerly Facebook) and Twitter to allow identification of the “first author” of infringing information. to India’s sovereignty, state security or public order.

According to the rules, intermediaries with more than 50 lakh users are required to appoint a grievance officer, a nodal officer and a compliance officer, who must also reside in India.

Published on

June 02, 2022

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