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Govt to set up appellate panels to redress grievances of social media users

The Union government will set up appellate panels to redress the grievances users may have against social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook on hosting contentious content following amendments to the new IT rules, the Delhi High Court was informed on Monday.

The submission was made before Justice Yashwant Varma, who was hearing a batch of petitions concerning the suspension and deletion of accounts of several social media users, including Twitter users.

Additional Solicitor General Chetan Sharma, representing the central government, placed before the court a notification of Oct. 28 in terms of which certain amended rules have come to be introduced in the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021.

“The same is taken on record. Let this batch be put for further hearing on Feb. 6,” the high court said.

After rule 3 of the IT Rules, rule 3A has been inserted which says “Appeal to Grievance Appellate Committee(s)”, a gazette notification issued by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology said.

According to the newly inserted rule, the central government shall, by notification, establish one or more grievance appellate committees within three months from the date of commencement of the IT Amendment Rules, 2022.

“Each Grievance Appellate Committee shall consist of a chairperson and two whole time members appointed by the central government, of which one shall be a member ex-officio and two shall be independent members. Any person aggrieved by a decision of the grievance officer may prefer an appeal to the grievance appellate committee within a period of 30 days from the date of receipt of communication from the grievance officer,” it said.

It further reads, “The grievance appellate committee shall deal with such appeal expeditiously and shall make an endeavour to resolve the appeal finally within 30 calendar days from the date of receipt of the appeal. While dealing with the appeal if the grievance appellate committee feels necessary, it may seek assistance from any person having requisite qualification, experience and expertise in the subject matter.”

The rule said the grievance appellate committee shall adopt an online dispute resolution mechanism wherein the entire appeal process, from filing of appeal to the decision thereof, shall be conducted through digital mode.

Every order passed by the grievance appellate committee shall be complied with by the intermediary concerned and a report to that effect shall be uploaded on its website.

The high court had on Aug. 17 granted time to the central government to inform if it was drafting any regulations to govern the issue of de-platforming of users from social media.

Earlier, senior counsel for one of the social media platforms had said in case such guidelines are formulated, the scope of proceedings before the court can be navigated accordingly.

In its affidavit filed in one of the cases against the suspension of the petitioner’s Twitter account, the central government has said an individual’s liberty and freedom cannot be “waylaid or jettisoned in the slipstream of social and technological advancement” and the social media platforms must respect the fundamental rights of the citizens and conform to the Constitution of India.

It has said social media platforms should not take down the account itself or completely suspend it in all cases and complete de-platforming is against the spirit of Article 14 (equality before law), Article 19 (freedom of speech and expression), and Article 21 (protection of life and personal liberty) of the Constitution of India.

Asserting that it is the custodian of the users’ fundamental rights in cyberspace, the government has said a social media account can be suspended or de-platformed only in cases such as in the interest of the sovereignty, security, and integrity of India, friendly relations with foreign States or public order or pursuant to a court order or if the content is grossly unlawful such as sexual abuse. Bloomberg

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