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Govt releases fresh draft note on regulating social media

The Centre on Monday has released a fresh draft notification seeking comments from intermediary (social media) companies for amendments in Part-I and Part-II of the IT Rules, 2021, relating to setting up one or more appellate Committee/s with the power to reverse the content moderation decisions of these firms.

Earlier, on June 2, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) released a similar draft note to amend the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, for appointment of a grievance appellate, which would oversee the grievance officers of the social media companies. It was, however, withdrawn in a few hours.

The government on Monday uploaded a fresh draft with minor changes that included setting up of appellate committees to review the decisions on pulling down content by internal grievance redressal officers of the social media companies. The new draft added a provisio that said that notwithstanding the existing mechanisms, the consumers can approach the courts directly.

“Putting the interests of Digital Indians First: Proposed amended IT rules to provide additional avenues for grievance redressal apart from courts and also ensure that the constitutional rights of Indian citizens are not contravened by any big-tech platform by ensuring new accountability standards for significant social media intermediaries (SSMIs),” the latest draft note said.

It also added the draft “will not impact early stage or growth stage Indian companies or start-ups”.

The draft has proposed to add two provisos under rule 3(2) of the IT Rules 2021—the first proviso will require any complaint for removal of any content under rule 3(1) – and to be addressed within 72 hours of the receipt of the user’s complaint, because of the very nature of cyber space providing instant communication, outreach and virality.

“It is proposed to create an appellate body called ‘Grievance Appellate Committee’ under rule 3(3) of the IT Rules 2021 by invoking section 79 of the IT Act having regard to additional guidelines as may be prescribed by the Central Government,” it said.

It added that “even after this amendment, the users will have the right to directly approach a court of law against the intermediary’s decision.”

MeitY said a formal public consultation meeting will be arranged by mid-June, and the details will be notified soon.

According to industry veterans and lawyers, such changes in the rule are ambiguous and make it more onerous for Intermediaries. Also, the final word on what gets to stay on the platform now lies with the government rather than with social media companies, which could be objectionable to many companies.

“The Rules have been challenged in the courts by several private companies and civil society organisations. The new amendments are just adding another layer of control over free flow of information completely defeating the purpose of Section 79,” Mishi Choudhary at Software Freedom Law Center India (SFLC). The Hindu BusinessLine

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