NEW DELHI: Two major developments took place in the tech world this week. While on global level, micro-blogging site Twitter was taken over by Elon Musk, the Indian Government announced the setting up of appellate panels to tackle grievances that arise against decisions of the social media platforms on hosting contentious content.
According to a Gazette notification issued on October 28, each grievance appellate committee will have three members and would be in place before the end of this year. The tweak in the rules also entrusts the responsibility on social media companies to ensure that no unlawful content or misinformation is posted their sites.
“The obligation of intermediaries earlier was limited to notifying users of rules but now there will be much more definite obligations on platforms. Intermediaries have to make efforts that no unlawful content is posted on platform,” Union IT Minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar said.
Clarifying that the latest amendments are not a response to changing of ownership at Twitter, Chandrasekhar said that the Central Government has been working on coming up with mechanisms to regulate social media since March this year. Retorting that the Government wants to work with social media companies as partners but it is responsible towards its citizens and has to ensure that “digital nagriks” are not vulnerable at the hands of social media giants.
The Grievance Appellate Committees (GACs) were necessitated as the Government is aware of lakhs of messages from citizens where grievances were not responded to by social media firms despite complaints. “That is not acceptable,” the minister emphasised.
“The constitutional rights of India’s citizens should be respected by intermediaries, especially articles relating to free speech, liberty, and nondiscrimination. In order to strengthen accountability between user and intermediary we’ve brought a grievance appellate platform,” he said.
During a discussion about the rules at Twitter Space on October 29, the minister stated that the intermediaries cannot suspend or ban anyone without sending a notice and giving an account-holder the opportunity to explain his/her position. Chandrasekhar said: “The process of natural justice, which is at the core of the system in India, has to be followed by every platform.”
From now on, social media platforms will be obliged to take action within 72 hours of flagging by users of any “misinformation” or illegal content or content that promotes enmity between different groups on the grounds of religion or caste with the intent to incite violence.
If the platforms fail to comply by the amended rules, the Centre at this stage has not brought in punitive actions, but if the state of affairs does not improve, it will consider tough actions, said Chandrashekar.
Earlier this year, in June, the IT minister had held an open house discussion with stakeholders on a draft notification to amend the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021.
Back then, the Government had proposed to set up a grievance panel with the power to override the decisions of social media companies and other internet firms. Before that the Government had put in place a “grievance officer and an accountability framework” that was missing before February 2021, as the platforms and intermediaries-appointed grievance officers failed to redress grievance of users, Chandrasekhar had said.