The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology on February 28 launched the Grievance Appellate Committee (GAC) portal under the IT Rules, 2021, allowing people who are dissatisfied with complaints to social media companies on content takedown requests, to be heard by one of three Committees constituted by the government.
This marks a shift in how social media content is moderated in India. The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 were amended last year to require social media companies to “respect all the rights accorded to the citizens under the Constitution, including in the articles 14, 19 and 21,” signaling that social media platforms may now have to allow speech that is not allowed on their platforms, but are otherwise legal to express in public.
Three Committees were formed in January to receive complaints to put these amendments into action. The website of the GACs is now accepting appeals from the public. The IT Rules already require platforms to have a process for accepting complaints against content and appeals against takedowns from users; companies’ decisions in response to these appeals, though, will now ultimately be subject to the GACs’ orders.
India is not the only country moving away from treating platforms such as Facebook and Twitter as mere private “intermediaries” who can set the rules of the conversation on their platforms. The United States Supreme Court is hearing cases that, if ruled against platforms, could force the latter to open up their platforms to speech they have hitherto moved to restrict. A brief published Monday by the Washington, D.C.-based Reporters Committee for the Free Press said that it was unclear from ongoing oral arguments in the case what the apex U.S. court will decide.
“This is a case of substantive statutory provisions being formulated through the process of subordinate legislation without any parliamentary debates,” the Software Freedom Law Centre said last year on the formation of the GACs. The IT Ministry has indicated that it is working on a “Digital India Bill” to give a firmer statutory backing to the IT Rules and other digital lawmaking, but has not published any details of this proposed law.