The government has proposed a new panel that will have the power to overturn the decisions related to content moderation/takedown of social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, following appeals by users.
As per the draft of the proposed amendments to the IT Rules, 2021, the Central government will constitute one or more ‘Grievance Appellate Committees’ or appellate committees to deal with appeals by users against the decision of the Grievance Officer appointed by the social media intermediary.
The draft was put up on the website of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), seeking comments and suggestions of stakeholders till June 22, 2022. However, it was not reflecting on the website from Thursday afternoon onwards. While a senior government official confirmed that the proposed draft has not been withdrawn and may be a ‘technical glitch’, the draft was not available on the Ministry’s website till the time of going to press.
Blocking of accounts
The proposal comes on the back of multiple stand-offs between the government and the social media platforms over content moderation and takedown. Last year, for example, microblogging site Twitter had blocked several accounts, including that of news websites, actors, political workers and bloggers, posting messages in support of the farmers’ agitation following government orders. The U.S.-headquartered firm later said it had only “withheld a portion of the accounts” identified by the MeitY within India, and was also served with a non-compliance notice following restoration of content that it believed was consistent with Indian law.
In another instance, the government had asked Twitter to remove the ‘manipulated media’ tag from certain tweets from verified accounts of many BJP leaders, including Sambit Patra. However, these were not removed by Twitter. In these tweets, the BJP leaders shared certain documents alleging use of a toolkit by the Congress to hurt Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s image during the second wave of COVID-19.
Within 30 days
The proposed amendments state that any person aggrieved by an order of the Grievance Officer appointed by a social media network may appeal to the Grievance Appellate Committee within 30 days of receipt of communication from the Grievance Officer.
“The Grievance Appellate Committee shall deal with such appeal expeditiously and shall make an endeavour to dispose of the appeal finally within 30 calendar days from the date of receipt of the appeal,” it states.
It further adds that, “Every order passed by the Grievance Appellate Committee shall be complied with by the intermediary concerned”. The committee will consist of a chairperson and other members appointed by the Central government.
“Government policies and rulemaking are committed to ensure an open, safe and trusted and accountable Internet for its users. As Internet access continues to rapidly expand in India, new issues related to the above commitments also keep emerging. To deal with such new and emerging issues, as well as to address the gaps identified, it is proposed to further update primarily the part-II of the IT Rules, 2021…,” the draft states.
‘The Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021’ came into effect from May 26, 2021, and make it mandatory for platforms such as WhatsApp, Signal and Telegram to aid in identifying “originator” of “unlawful” messages, while also requiring social media platforms to take down such messages within a specific time frame, set up grievance redressal mechanism as well as assist government agencies in investigation.