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New IT rules to place greater obligations on social media platforms to act against illegal content and misinformation: Rajeev Chandrasekhar

IT Minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar said on Saturday that latest change in IT rules impose more specific due diligence obligations on social media companies to work to ensure that no illegal content or misinformation is posted on their platforms.

On Friday, the government notified rules under which it will set up appeal boards to address grievances users may have against decisions by social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook on the hosting of contentious content.

Regarding the formation of three Grievance Appeals Committees (GACs), the Minister said that this decision was made necessary because the government is aware of hundreds of thousands of messages from citizens where grievances have not been answered by the social media companies despite complaints. “It’s not acceptable,” Chandrasekhar told a briefing.

He further said that the government wants social media companies to work as partners to secure the interests of “digital nagriks”.

“Previously, the obligations of intermediaries were limited to informing users of the rules, but now there will be much more specific obligations on platforms. Intermediaries must make efforts to ensure that no illegal content is published on the platform “, did he declare.

In a strong message to Big Tech companies, the minister asserted that the community guidelines of the platforms, whether headquartered in the United States or in Europe, cannot contradict the constitutional rights of Indians when these platforms operate in India.

He said platforms will have an obligation to remove within 72 hours of reporting, any “misinformation” or illegal content or content that promotes enmity between different groups on grounds of religion or caste with the intention of incite violence.

Chandrasekhar said he personally believes that 72 hours is too much, and advocated that if the rules establish such deadlines, platforms must act immediately and urgently on illegal content.

“We will start with 1-2 GAC… The government is not interested in playing the role of ombudsman. This is a responsibility we take reluctantly, as the grievance mechanism is not working properly,” the minister said.

The idea is not to target a company or an intermediary or to make it difficult for them. The government views the internet and online security as a shared responsibility of all, he noted.

On whether sanctions will be imposed on those who fail to comply, he said the government would not like to take punitive action at this stage, but warned that if the situation required it in the future, it would would be considered.

Social media companies are currently protected under Section 79 from any lawsuit related to content on their platforms, benefiting from a general safe harbor.

“If you violate the rules or if you don’t follow the rules, the ensuing impact is not punitive, not financial from now on…it’s that you lose your safe harbor status.” Which means if I’m harmed by content on your platform and you’re the middleman, then I can go to court and get natural justice through the court system. You do not benefit from any protection that the IT law has so far provided to you,” the minister said.

To continue as an intermediary, there are certain obligations imposed by IT rules. “And those obligations include… being very clear about the kind of do’s and don’ts for your platform… making sure that if there’s illegal content as defined in the rules, you’re making reasonable efforts to ensure that this content is removed and even if you are unable to do so with your content moderation algorithms, when it is flagged that the content should be removed within 72 hours,” Chandrasekhar said.

Intermediaries will now have to ensure that there is no uploading of content that intentionally conveys misinformation or manifestly false or untrue information, placing a significant responsibility on intermediaries.

The minister squarely dismissed claims by some critics that changes to social media rules would increase the government’s ability to influence content moderation decisions.

“We don’t deal with content at all,” the minister said when asked about concerns that forming grievance appeal boards could strengthen government control over content-related decisions.

“We are not replacing anything. Grievance Appeal Boards are here to sit as an appeal body in case consumers, who are the most important stakeholders of the Internet, are not satisfied with the grievance process managed by intermediaries,” he explained.

There will be one government member and two independent members in these commissions.

On Friday, digital rights group Internet Freedom Foundation had tweeted: “Notified amendment rules undermine the digital rights of every Indian social media user.” In a detailed statement, the Internet Freedom Foundation said the Grievance Appeals Board “is essentially a government social media censorship body that will make bureaucrats the arbiters of our freedom of expression online.”

“Given that the GAC would hear appeals against social media platforms‘ decisions to remove content or not, it will urge platforms to remove/remove/label any speech that is objectionable to the government or those exerting political pressure,” it said. -he declares.

Internet Freedom Foundation had added: “The opaque and arbitrary methods of selecting appeals for their review, the lack of trust in an executive body, the government’s ability to influence content moderation decisions in a non-transparent way are just a few- some of the concerns. arising from the IT Amendment Rules, 2022”.

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