The government will not tolerate any kind of power abuse by social media companies and use of misinformation to distort conversations on the internet, minister of state for electronics and information technology Rajeev Chandrasekhar said on Friday.
The statement by the minister assumes significance in the light of “revelations” related to Twitter by independent journalist Bari Weiss, as per which the social media platform was involved in content manipulations on the platform. According to Weiss, the investigation revealed that Twitter prevented disfavored tweets from trending, limited the visibility of accounts and trending topics, without informing the users. In simple words, the company was allegedly involved in shadow banning (blocking reach of user’s content) and was blacklisting content to suppress information.
“This kind of weaponization of misinformation will not be accepted. I draw attention of the platforms to the amended IT rules and the very changed but very specific obligations that have been cast on them in terms of their own need to do due diligence on the content that are on their platforms and intervene in 72 hours to take down content that is misinformation,” Chandrasekhar told reporters.
The government has been tightening the rules for the intermediaries (social media) in recent times. In October, it amended the IT Rules as per which social media companies will have to remove any misinformation and illegal content which is obscene, pornographic, invades another’s privacy, insulting or harassing on the basis of gender, racially or ethnically objectionable, relating or encouraging money laundering or gambling, among others, within 72 hours of receiving the complaint.
These companies might even lose access to their ‘safe harbor’ status on not complying with the IT rules. Currently under Section 79 of IT Act 2000, intermediaries are protected from any legal prosecution related to content on their platforms. If they lose the safe harbor status, they will lose that legal immunity for the content posted on their platforms.
“We were not aware that this (Twitter suppressing information and preventing speech) was actually being done. And the IT rules that we put out after significant amount of consultation were meant to deal with the possibility of this happening,” Chandrasekhar said.
“It is clear that selective filtering, selective silencing are dealt with by Article 14, 19, and 21 stipulations in the amended IT rules,” he added.
The new rules also has provision for setting up grievance appellate committees (GAC), which will look into complaints by users of social media firms. These committees will adjudicate complaints by users relating to blocking of content or accounts by the grievance redressal officers of the social media firms concerned.
The government will soon start consulation on the framework for the grievance appellate committees, Chandrasekhar said.