Big Tech fails, govt may form grievance panel

Lack of consensus on content-related policies

Big Tech fails, govt may form grievance panel
Social media companies, along with industry body Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), were chalking up the contours of a self-regulatory mechanism.

The attempt by Big Tech firms like Facebook (Meta), Twitter and Google to come up with a self-regulated grievance appellate committee (GAC) seems to have failed. This clears the decks for the government to move in.

When it comes to content, Facebook and Twitter were on the same page, but Google has reservations that any external policy drawn up by the industry-led GAC could be in conflict with its internal policies.

Social media companies, along with industry body Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), were chalking up the contours of a self-regulatory mechanism.

Industry analysts pointed out that the nature of content on Google is quite different from that on Facebook or Twitter. For instance, Google mostly functions as an aggregator while the other two act as platforms for users to voice their political views, which get controversial at times, and have led to the government blocking such content. In this context, it may be difficult for the three to come up with common regulatory guidelines.

When contacted, a Google spokesperson said, “We had a preliminary meeting and are engaging in active discussions with the industry as well as the government. We are exploring all options and look forward to working with stakeholders to find the best possible solution.”

Industry sources said that there has been only one meeting between the three firms and IAMAI. Though the government did not give the industry a fixed timeline to come with such a body, industry sources said that it’s unlikely that much would come out of it in the days to come.

Executives working in the tech and telecom industry, who are privy to the talks, said that Big Tech firms are divided on most issues in the West. So, it’s natural that their differences would have a bearing on talks in India.

Meanwhile, the government is readying the contours of its own GAC, which may be headed by a retired judge. The thinking in the government is that the GAC could also act as a grievance redressal forum for citizens who feel their data is being misused by the social media companies. If GAC materialises, then the government may drop the overarching Data Protection Authority (DPA) in the new Data Protection Bill, which it is drafting.

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In June this year, the government had decided to form a grievance appellate committee to look into complaints by users of social media firms as it felt that there’s no self-regulation mechanism in place.

However, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, minister of state for electronics and IT, had said that if intermediaries like Twitter, Facebook, Google, among others, come up with a proposal for self-regulatory or self-redressal appellate mechanism, the government would consider it.

“It is our thinking that if the industry and these platforms come up with own self-regulatory, self redressal appellate mechanism, we are open to it,” Chandrasekhar had said. He had also said that the need for an appellate panel was felt as there were several instances of inaction over user complaints, as also cases where users were dissatisfied with the decisions taken by the grievance officers of the social media firms.

According to the government’s proposal, the GAC shall consist of a chairperson and such other members, as the central government may appoint through a notification in the official gazette.

The GAC would adjudicate complaints by users relating to blocking of content or accounts by the grievance redressal officers of the social media firms.

The government feels that the GAC would provide an alternative to a user to file an appeal against the decision of the grievance officer rather than directly going to the court of law. Hence, the user can appeal to the GAC in case of his dissatisfaction with the order of the grievance officer and seek an alternative redressal mechanism. However, the user has the right to seek judicial remedy at any time.

Currently, users can move courts directly for redressal concerning objections to content or account being blocked. By creating the GAC, the government wants to create an adjudicating body between the grievance redressal officers of social media firms and the courts of law.

The government has been tightening the rules for the intermediaries in recent times. Last year, according to some new addition to the IT Rules, social media firms had to appoint a set of officers to deal with complaints and objectionable content.

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