Any “arbitrary” ban on social media platforms and intermediaries could impede foreign direct investment and affect expansion of the digital India initiative, an industry body of Internet and mobile device companies said Saturday. Without naming Chinese video sharing app TikTok, the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) said its statement was in response to the “recent ban by the MeiTY on the order of a High Court of a social media platform”.
The Madras High Court on April 3, 2019, had directed the Centre to ban TikTok, saying it was evident from media reports that pornography and inappropriate content were made available through such mobile applications. Soon after, tech giants Google and Apple removed TikTok from their app stores in India to prohibit further downloads of the application.
Owned by Chinese firm Bytedance, TikTok is a short-video app that has over 120 million users in India and is popular among youngsters. The IAMAI said it would be a major roadblock to the growth of digital India and impede FDI in digital if intermediaries were to be banned quite arbitrarily by the courts in the country.
“The association was of the view that such bans dilutes nay negate the safe harbour provisions currently contained in the IT Act and its Rules and make it impossible for them to operate in the country. Especially affected would be the so-called social media platforms which allow citizens to express themselves,” it added.
The IAMAI said content moderation on user-generated content platforms has been a problem about which the platforms themselves are keenly aware and have taken effective measures in recent months to curb the excesses. It also pointed out that social media platforms in the country have adopted the Code of Ethics with the Election Commission.
“The association is of the view that in this particular instance, the complainant should have approached the government for redressal first before approaching the courts and the court should have ideally asked the platform to remove the ‘offending content’ than ban the entire app. It is a classic case of throwing the baby with the bathwater,” the IAMAI said.
According to the IAMAI, dilution of the Safe Harbour protection available to intermediaries/social media platforms undermines the steady growth of India’s digital economy and especially impacts the thriving startup ecosystem in the country.
“Content moderation on user-generated platforms is an industry-wide challenge that our members take very seriously, and are constantly addressing with ever-improving mechanisms along with enhanced safety features such as increased privacy settings, in-app reporting, comments filter, content filter for younger users, in-app access to Community Guidelines, online safety resources and more,” it said.