Should social media be regulated?

The draft amendment to regulate technology and social media companies in India is out. This will be out for public consultations from the middle of June. The Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY) has published a fresh draft of amendments to the Information Technology Rules, 2021 (IT Rules).

According to the new draft, a government appointed appeal committees will be empowered to review and possibly reverse content moderation decisions taken by social media companies. “Putting interests of digital Nagriks (citizens) first, the new amended IT (intermediary) rules are out for public consultation. More effective grievance addressal and ensuring constitutional rights of citizens are respected. No impact on Indian startups,” Minister of State for electronics and IT, Rajeev Chandrasekhar wrote in a tweet on the draft proposals.

Most significant proposal of the draft is creation of additional avenues for grievances redressal apart from courts. The draft norm also proposes to frame new accountability standards for SSMIs (significant social media intermediaries) to ensure protection of constitutional rights of Indian citizens. Under the existing regulations, released in February last year, social media companies like Facebook and Twitter are mandated to appoint India-based resident grievance officers as part of their due diligence as ‘intermediaries’ who enjoy legal immunity from third-party content on their platform. These officials oversee the whole mechanism to redress users’ complaints. However, there are many instances wherein the government and large social media platforms have come to a collision course with regard to implementation of these norms.

According to the fresh draft, government appointed appellate committees will be able to veto content decisions taken by social media intermediaries. “The Central Government shall constitute one or more grievance appellate committees, which shall consist of a chairperson and such other members, as the government may, by notification in the official gazette, appoint,” the new draft said. The draft also said that the appellate committee would ‘endeavour to address the user’s appeal within a period of 30 days.

Social media regulation is a hot debate across the world. Given the influence wielded by social media companies on various matters including public policy, religion, and politics among others; most government agencies want to regulate the space to ensure protection of their citizens’ rights. Instances where there are many vested interests had moulded public opinion in their favour by leveraging social media. Even many governments have imposed hefty penalties on several social media platforms for flouting regulations.

Against this backdrop, India’s move to come up with a robust grievance mechanism is a welcome step. However, too much of restriction will infringe on the right to expression of Indian citizens. The government of the day should have to make a fine balance between regulations and free speech. Social media platforms are being effectively used by various businesses to reach out to their end users. Similarly, India is also witnessing growth of domestic social media platforms in recent years. This throws open ample of opportunities for creating many unicorns in this space in coming years. Therefore, oversight is a welcome move with effective check and balances in Indian context.

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