Norms to regulate Social Media – UPSC GS3

New IT rules on social media:
The government introduced few stringent rules for social media intermediaries. Important provisions of rules are:
  • Social media companies are prohibited from hosting or publishing any unlawful information. This information is “in relation to the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, public order, friendly relations with foreign countries, etc.
  • If such information is hosted or published the government can take down such information within 24 hours. The user will be given a notice before his/her content is taken down.
  • Under the new rules, Social media platforms are classified into two categories.
    1. Social media intermediaries : Platforms that have a limited user base.
    2. Significant social media intermediaries : These are the platforms with a large user base.
  • The significant social media intermediaries have to follow few additional measures like:
    • These platforms should have a physical contact address in India.
    • Appointing a Chief Compliance OfficerNodal Contact Person, and a Resident Grievance Officer in India. All of them should be Indian Residents.
Need for regulation:
  • The persistent spread of fake news, abuse of these platforms to share morphed images of women have been issues of concern.
  • The guidelines present an oversight mechanism to deal with such issues.
Criticisms of new social media rules:
  • Lack of public consultation: The rules were notified in a short time without much public consultation.
  • Threat to Privacy: The rules allow the government to enforce a traceability mechanism. This simply means a threat to the user’s privacy It will hamper the end-to-end encryption of platforms like WhatsApp.
  • Threat to Free Speech: As the new rules curtail free speech on these platforms, there will be a sense of fear among the users
  • No legal backing: The proposed oversight mechanism doesn’t have any legislative backing which is generally given to other regulators. For example, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Act provided powers to TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India). Under the rules, the regulation will be done by a body composed of bureaucrats. They might perform discretionary censorship.
  • Tussle between government and Social Media giants: Non-compliance will further widen the relationship gap between social media players and the Government. Further, it will also increase ongoing issues.
  • Against landmark judgements:
    • In the case of Life Insurance Corpn. Of India vs Prof. Manubhai D. Shah (1992), the SC had stated that ‘the freedom to circulate one’s views as the lifeline of any democratic institution’.
    • The Information Technology Rules, 2021 by making the Government the ultimate adjudicator of objectionable speech online restricts the citizen’s right to dissent against the government.
  • No scope of fair recourse:
    • An intermediary is now supposed to take down content within 36 hours upon receiving orders from the Government.
    • However, in the event of a disagreement with the Government’s order, the Intermediary does not have an option for a fair recourse.
  • Providing more time: Five industry bodies, including the CII, FICCI and the U.S.-India Business Council have sought an extension of 6-12 months for compliance. The government can provide time relaxation for compliance. In the meantime, the government can bring together both the private and industry experts to address genuine concerns.
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