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Open to self-regulation by social media firms: Govt

The move has been seen by a section of legal observers and internet activists as a case of over-regulation aimed at muzzling criticism of the government on social media platforms.

“If the industry and these platforms come up with own self-regulatory, self-redressal appellate mechanism, we are open to it,” the minister said, noting that the users currently don't have such a recourse.
“If the industry and these platforms come up with own self-regulatory, self-redressal appellate mechanism, we are open to it,” the minister said, noting that the users currently don't have such a recourse.

The government has decided to form grievance appellate committees to look into complaints by users of social media firms as currently there’s no self-regulation mechanism in place. Minister of state (MoS) for electronics and IT Rajeev Chandrasekhar on Tuesday said if intermediaries – such as Twitter, Facebook, Google, etc — come up with a proposal for self-regulatory or self-redressal appellate mechanism, the government would surely consider it.

“If the industry and these platforms come up with own self-regulatory, self-redressal appellate mechanism, we are open to it,” the minister said, noting that the users currently don’t have such a recourse.

Chandrasekhar said the new rules with regard to appellate committees would be finalised before the end of July. As per the proposal, these committees shall consist of a chairperson and such other members, as the Central government may, by notification in the official gazette, appoint. These committees 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 said committees 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 said committee 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 having objections to any content or account being blocked can move courts directly for redressal. By creating grievance appellate committees, the government is creating an adjudicating body between the grievance redressal officers of social media firms and the courts of law.

The move has been seen by a section of legal observers and internet activists as a case of over-regulation aimed at muzzling criticism of the government on social media platforms.

Social media firms point out that the government had just last year made the intermediary rules stricter and told them to appoint a set of officers to deal with complaints and objectionable content, and so, to now create appellate committees is a case of over-regulation and micro-management.

However, Chandrasekhar countered such apprehensions. “It is being done not to make it difficult for them (social media platforms), it is being done to keep citizens safe,” he said.

Chandrasekhar further said 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. The government’s objective of safeguarding the interest of digital citizens is an important one, he said, hoping that the evolving rules and regulations will be taken positively by the big tech companies.

The minister ruled out any hostility between the government and social media platforms and said the relations between the two have been evolving. “We are not volatile or hostile, we are absolutely happy with it. That is why all of this is being very reasoned. We will have engagement and public consultation with them (platforms),” he said.

Last year, the government had brought about a comprehensive set of new guidelines as part of the Information Technology (IT) Act to regulate social media intermediaries as well as over-the-top platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and standalone digital media outlets. It had tightened some clauses under Section 69A of the IT Act while mandating firms to appoint grievance redressal officers in the country and resolve consumer grievances within a specific time period, as well as have designated nodal officers for coordination with the government over law and order matters.

Further, the rules stipulated that any complaint for removal of information or communication links shall be redressed within 72 hours and the social media firm should develop appropriate safeguards to avoid any misuse by users.

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