The government will before end of July finalise new social media rules that propose to give users a grievance appeal mechanism against arbitrary content moderation, inaction, or takedown decisions of big tech companies, but is open to any self-regulatory appellate model that the industry could offer for the same, according to minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar.
The government had, on Monday, circulated the new draft rules that proposes a government panel to hear user appeals against inaction on complaints made, or against content-related decisions taken by grievance officers of social media platforms. At present, “there is no appellate mechanism provided by intermediaries nor is there any credible self-regulatory mechanism in place”, the IT ministry had said.
However, minister of state for information technology Rajeev Chandrasekhar said on Tuesday that the government is open to suggestions of an acceptable self-regulatory appellate framework that the industry may propose.
Chandrasekhar 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. 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.
“It is being done not to make it difficult for them, it is being done to keep citizens safe,” the minister told reporters.
Even after providing for the redressal mechanism through the IT Rules, 2021, user grievances remained unresolved, prompting the government to step in and propose an appellate jurisdiction framework, he explained.
“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,” the minister said, noting that the users currently don’t have such a recourse to turn to.
In other words, if the industry suggests an acceptable framework of addressing grievance of consumers to ensure accountability, the government will be “absolutely open” to such suggestions.
“If the industry suggests…their own way of addressing grievance appellate, we are open…this is a consultation… If someone has a better, more efficient solution, we are open to a better idea,” Chandrasekhar said.
User grievances are not effectively being resolved in the current framework, the minister emphasised, adding that the proposed amendment is aimed at offering “additional avenues” for grievance redressal to those social media users who cannot afford cost and time of approaching courts.
There are repeated complaints on “arbitrary” deplatforming (taking down of accounts) without giving users any opportunity to explain, or instances of muting or amplifying through algorithms.
The government expects to finalise new social media rules before July-end after extensive consultations, Chandrasekhar said. Public consultation on the draft circulated by the IT ministry will take place in the next 30 days. A formal public consultation meeting will be scheduled by mid-June. The draft amendment is widely anticipated to be opposed by the big tech platforms during the upcoming consultation process.
Chandrasekhar said that safety and trust are public policy objectives and mission, and added that the government will do all it takes to ensure suitable safeguards are in place for digital citizens navigating online and social media space.
“At some point, the platforms have to figure out a method of doing this, because it is not even sustainable for the government to keep playing watchman, intermediary, ombudsman’s role when there are 1.2 billion Indians online… It is not a sustainable model,” the minister said.
He hoped that platforms will also understand the pressing need to create accountability in their methods of doing business and providing services.
Amid reports that digital platforms are acting arbitrarily in pulling down content and ‘de-platforming’, the government has, all along, made it clear that social media companies cannot undermine the constitutional rights of citizens, and that internet must be a safe and trusted place with all platforms accountable to their users. There is a growing discontent among a section of users who allege that digital platforms have been indulging in arbitrary acts in taking down content, or not responding fast enough to grievances, despite users red-flagging them.
Asked if the new rules would reignite the differences between platforms and the government, Chandrasekhar refuted the suggestion that the relations had been volatile at all. The relations have been evolving, and there is no hostility, he stressed.
“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.
The appellate jurisdiction issue arises in the cases where big tech platforms do not adhere to the spirit of the grievance officer mechanism and the grievance redressal model, which has been put into place in the IT rules notified last year.
“The idea of a grievance officer was that they would address the grievance raised by the consumer… that is the whole idea of accountability. But, many a times we have seen reports that consumers send letters/ complaints to the grievance officers and they just get acknowledgment, ultimately but nothing happens,” he said. PTI