Media platforms

Social media platforms should only suspend accounts as a last resort: MeitY

“Platforms should respect the fundamental rights of citizens and should not delete the account itself…deleting the entire user information or account should be a last resort and the platform can, at all times, endeavor to protect the fundamental rights of users by following the principles of natural justice and by providing reasonable time and opportunity for the user to explain his position, ”said the Ministry of Electronics and of Information Technology (MeitY) in an affidavit filed in the Delhi High Court on March 30.

The Delhi High Court was audience a plea of ​​political satire handle Wokeflix challenging the decision taken by Twitter and Instagram to suspend its accounts in November 2021 and January 2022 respectively. While Instagram has since reinstated the account, Twitter continues to keep it suspended.

In addition to the Wokeflix case, the Delhi High Court is hearing half a dozen other cases related to the suspension of accounts by social media platforms, including that of @Bharadwajspeaks, @Suyashdeep and @MeghBulletin, and the case was listed for April 13. for final disposal, Bar and Bench reported.

Twitter, Instagram acted in violation of 2021 IT rules by not issuing notice

  1. Twitter, Instagram should have provided notice to users and possibility of redress: In its affidavit, MeitY pointed out that intermediaries may take action against content and user accounts based on any of the stipulated circumstances mentioned in Rule 3(1)(b) of the Technology Rules. information (TI) 2021, which were notified last February. year and claim immunity for such actions. But if a major social media intermediary (SSMI) like Twitter and Instagram removes content or suspends an account based on Rule 3(1)(b), then under Rule 4(8), the intermediary must provide prior notification to the user explaining the action taken and the grounds or reasons for taking such action, the affidavit explained. Additionally, SSMIs must provide the user with an adequate and reasonable opportunity to challenge the action taken by the intermediary and request restoration of access, the affidavit points out.
  2. Unless the seriousness of the information justifies the contrary: Sometimes, depending on the nature and severity of the information removed, SSMIs may decide to remove the content before issuing a notice, the affidavit states. “In certain scenarios such as rape, sexually explicit material or child sexual abuse material (CSAM), bot activity or malware […] the intermediary may not consider it prudent to inform the user before withdrawing his information. Thus, the crucial criteria for determining whether a notice should be issued or not will determine the risks that a notice could create. Where a notice may create more risk for the complainant or if the content relates to the special cases (mentioned above), the platform may withhold issuance of a prior notice,” the affidavit reads. The same was clarified in the FAQ posted by MeitY regarding IT rules, according to the affidavit.
  3. The content cannot be modified or edited suo moto by an intermediary: MeitY pointed out that “there is no provision under which the information may be edited or modified before transmission suo moto by an intermediary”.
  4. Failure to comply with the above constitutes a violation of IT rules: “Thus, except in exceptional circumstances which have been specified in the FAQ, an SSMI is supposed to warn the user beforehand before taking any action on the user’s account. If an SSMI fails to comply with the above, it may constitute a violation of these IT Rules 2021, [and] Rule 7 of the IT Rules, 2021 deals with ‘breaking the rules’,” the affidavit states.
  5. Users can request actions against the platform for violation: In the event that an SSMI violates the IT Rules, the aggrieved user can invoke IT Rules Rule 7, 2021 and seek action against the platforms by initiating appropriate proceedings in accordance with the law, the affidavit states.

Take measures proportionate to the breach

“If only some or some content is illegal, the platform may take proportionate action to remove only such alleged information and not suspend the user’s account completely,” MeitY said in its affidavit. “[…] Only in cases where the majority of content/posts/tweets in a user account are illegal, the platform may take the extreme measure of deleting all information or suspending the entire account.said MeitY.

When else can an account be suspended or deleted?

In its affidavit, MeitY set out the following circumstances under which an account may be suspended or terminated:

  1. Government orders: If the account should be blocked in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, defense of India, state security, friendly relations with foreign states or public order or to prevent incitement to commit any recognizable offense relating to the foregoing and on the basis of government or court orders following the process referred to in Section 69A of the Computers Act 2000 which specifically deals with these matters for which well-defined rules are drawn up. This also includes accounts that are illegal and prohibited under applicable law based on the orders of an appropriate government or its agency.
  2. Court orders: If the court orders the account blocked for any reason, including if the account is manifestly illegal and contains content such as rape, sexually explicit material, or child sexual abuse material (CSAM), bot activity or malware, terrorism-related content.

“Thus, except in cases where there is a government instruction or court order, in the circumstances listed above, the total suspension of a user’s account is contrary to the spirit of Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution of India”, the affidavit states

Platforms must be held accountable for overriding fundamental rights

In its motion, Wokeflix alleged that Twitter’s actions are arbitrary and violate various provisions of the Constitution of India, including Articles 14, 19 and 21. Considering this allegation, MeitY said:

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“The SSMIs must be held accountable for having subjugated and supplanted fundamental rights like the right to freedom of speech and expression, otherwise it would have disastrous consequences for any democratic nation. It is humbly maintained that the freedom and liberty of any individual cannot be hijacked or abandoned in the wake of social and technological progress. (emphasis ours)

Further, MeitY said that “the bulwark of our constitution is a system of checks and balances, ensuring that all institutions of Indian democracy are held accountable” and whether a company “is allowed to be uncontrolled or unregulated in the legal framework, then it can act according to its own whims and fancies, thus overcoming natural and inalienable rights.

The principles of natural justice were not respected

In its motion, Wokeflix alleged that it had no opportunity to prove its position regarding its Twitter posts or the opportunity to establish that these posts did not violate any of the platform’s guidelines.

In response to this, MeitY said that:

“Allegations that the principles of natural justice have not been followed before depriving a citizen of his fundamental right, in particular a right as sacrosanct, fundamental and inviolable as the right to freedom of expression on a platform specifically intended for the dissemination and expression of public opinion, is contrary to the principles of the Constitution of India.

MeitY is the guardian of the fundamental rights of users in cyberspace

“MeitY is the custodian of the fundamental rights of users enshrined in the Constitution of India in cyberspace [and] expects platforms to abide by the Constitution of India and adhere to the principles of natural justice by giving notice or an opportunity to the user before taking any action,” the affidavit states.

What is MeitY’s approach to overseeing internet regulations?

In its affidavit, MeitY also set out the following principles on which it frames Internet regulation:

  1. Internet must be open, safe and reliable
  2. Platforms to be accountable to users
  3. No platform or intermediary shall be permitted to infringe upon any rights of citizens including but not limited to Sections 14, 19 and 21 guaranteed by the Constitution of India on the pretext of violation of the policies of the platform. -form, unless it violates applicable law. .

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