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Social media platforms must be held accountable for subjugating rights: Centre to HC

‘Liberty and freedom of any individual cannot be waylaid in the slipstream of technological advancement’

March 30, 2022 09:30 pm | Updated 09:30 pm IST - New Delhi

The Centre told the Delhi High Court on Wednesday that social media platforms must be held accountable for “subjugating and supplanting fundamental rights like the right to freedom of speech and expression, otherwise the same would have dire consequences for any democratic nation”. 

“It is humbly submitted that liberty and freedom of any individual cannot be waylaid or jettisoned in the slipstream of social and technological advancement,” the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) said in an affidavit.

The Ministry’s submission came in response to a petition filed by a Twitter user whose account was suspended by the microblogging site for alleged violations of platform guidelines.

The Twitter user said his account was suspended on February 24, 2022, for the reason of “ban evasion” (creating an account when a similar account was earlier banned). The complainant said Twitter suspended his accounts without giving him an opportunity of a hearing.

The Centre said when a Significant Social Media Intermediary (SSMI) such as Twitter takes a decision to suspend the whole or part of a user’s account “on its own accord” due to its policy violation, it should afford a reasonable opportunity to the user to defend his side.

The exception, the Centre said, where the SSMIs could take such a decision include “certain scenarios such as rape, sexually explicit material or child sexual abuse material, bot activity or malware, terrorism-related content etc.”.

“If an SSMI fails to comply with the above, then it may amount to a violation of IT Rules 2021,” the Centre said.

‘Must respect rights’

It said social media platforms must respect the fundamental rights of the citizens and should not take down the account itself or completely suspend the user account in all cases. “Taking down the whole information or the user account should be a last resort,” it added.

“Only in cases where the majority of the contents/posts/tweets on an account are unlawful, the platform may take the extreme step of taking down the whole information or suspending the whole account,” the Centre said.

“No platform or intermediary will be allowed to infringe upon the citizens’ rights, including but not limited to Articles 14, 19 and 21 guaranteed under the Constitution of India under the guise of violation of platform’s policies unless it constitutes a violation of extant law in force,” the Centre reminded social media platforms.

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