In the name of unbridled freedom of speech, information technology has created its own Frankenstein that needs to be stopped. When an open medium for communication leads to such widespread mayhem, no responsible government can remain silent.
The Narendra Modi’s Government has boldly decided to do just that by bringing new rules to force social media platforms to remove incendiary content that violates Indian laws.
And to show that it means business, it has issued a show-cause notice to major social media platform Twitter asking why action should not be taken against it for not removing some posts as per the Government’s direction.
Though Twitter has challenged it in the High Court, the move has come none too late. India is in the throes of a social turmoil due to such posts, leading to death threats and gruesome murders. A Supreme Court judge has sought protection from vitriolic posts targeting him and asked the Government to regulate social media.
The Government’s content-blocking orders were issued under Section 69 (A) of the Information Technology Act, 2000. Last month, the IT Ministry had written to Twitter, asking it to comply with its orders by July 4 or lose its safe harbour protection under the intermediary rules.
Section 69 (A) of the IT Act, 2000 allows the Centre to issue blocking orders to social media intermediaries “in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states or public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognisable offence relating to above”.
As per rules that govern these blocking orders, any request made by the Government is sent to a review committee, which then issues these directions. In their respective transparency reports, Facebook and Instagram reportedly removed 3.20 crore posts, while Google removed around 60,000 URLs suo moto.
According to Twitter’s latest global transparency report, between January and June 2021, it received 43,387 legal demands to remove content specifying 1,96,878 accounts, of which India accounted for 11 pc.
The Government had initially allowed social media platforms to undertake self-regulation by moderating their content. To protect users from incorrect takedowns and account suspensions by social media platforms, the need was felt to institute effective grievance redressal mechanisms (GRM). If unsatisfied with GRM official’s order, the user could approach High Court/Supreme Court.
Since this was costly and timeconsuming, the Government proposed setting up ‘grievance appellate committee’. IT law experts believe that since self-regulatory approach has failed, the Government should design an appellate tier that is immune to undue interference either from itself or social media platforms.
To do so, as an interim measure, it should constitute the grievance appellate committee by way of notification and give it statutory status.
The long-term answer, perhaps, would be a nuanced legislation on regulating the social media. The Government has already repeatedly said that there is a need for overhaul of the existing Information Technology Act, 2000 and needed replacement with a comprehensive ‘Digital India Act’.