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Will bring in framework to regulate social media platforms: Centre to Delhi HC

‘Social media platforms must be held accountable for subjugating and supplanting fundamental rights’

September 08, 2022 12:55 am | Updated 12:55 am IST - New Delhi

Delhi High Court

Delhi High Court

The Centre informed the Delhi High Court on Wednesday that it will bring in at “some point in time” a framework to regulate social media platforms, including de-platforming of users by them.

The Centre made the statement before Justice Yashwant Varma who is hearing a batch of petitions against the suspension of accounts of several social media users, including Twitter users.

“The amendment will take place at some point in time, we don’t really know [when]. It will be prospective and [therefore] these cases will perhaps have to be decided [as per the existing scheme],” advocate Kirtiman Singh, appearing for the Centre, told the High Court.

Regulatory power

The High Court deferred hearing the petitions till December 19 observing, “If the scope of the regulatory power that you [Centre] propose to invoke is known, we will know what the contours of our jurisdiction are”.

On the last hearing in August, the High Court had asked the Centre to appraise it of any draft regulatory measures relating to social media platforms that may presently be under contemplation.

During the hearing on Wednesday, the court questioned why the existing grievances on suspension and deletion of social media accounts should not be dealt with in terms of the proposed framework.

“Before we enter into judgment, we also want to understand if there is any regulatory mechanism that they are proposing to implement [and] whether that would have any impact on this batch,” the court said.

In its affidavit filed in one of the petitions, the Centre has said 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 its affidavit.

Opportunity to defend

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.

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