UPSC Exam   »   Accountability of Social Media Platforms

Accountability of Social Media Platforms

GS Paper – 2: Government Policies & Intervention

GS Paper – 3: Scientific Innovations & Discoveries, Issues Arising Out of Design & Implementation of Policies, IT & Computers

Introduction

  • Social media platforms allow anyone to create a profile with just an email address, there’s no verification therefore no accountability.
  • Social media platforms are flooded with fake news, hate speech and other negative elements. They are being accused of manipulating views and opinions.
  • Moreover, owners of these platforms are found selling precious data.
  • Several countries have come up with laws in the past few months to regulate powerful social media companies.

Context
The Union government is considering bringing in a separate law to make social media companies accountable for what they publish as it looks to revise definitions of what constitutes intermediaries and social media firms.

Background
India, in recent years, has seen a massive surge in the number of internet users and people accessing social media platforms. The pandemic and the ensuing lockdown have doubled these numbers as more and more consumers turn to social media for interaction with their friends and families. At the same time, the digital explosion has given rise to concerns, namely lack of transparency, accountability, and users’ rights related to digital media.

Major Concerns:

  • The most significant concern is the misuse of social media platforms in spreading false news, sharing obscene images, child pornography, blasphemy, etc.
  • Racism, hate and threats are a pandemic that’s spread through social media.
  • One can pose as anyone he like, be anyone and say anything without any consequences.
  • This ‘freedom’ is a major strength of social networks and one of the reasons that they have done so well over the last decade but is now turning serious challenge in maintaining law and order situation.
  • Social media networks such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook are amazing platforms that enable people to express their voice freely. However, it has a tremendous dark side that has plagued all platforms since they were created.
  • The problem with social media isn’t just what users post — it’s what the platforms decide to do with that content.
  • Far from being neutral, social media companies are constantly making decisions about which content to amplify, elevate, and suggest to other users.
  • Recently, major news organizations revealed how Facebook’s own internal research showed that it failed to halt the spread of misinformation and hate speech.

Government Initiatives for deciding Social Media Platforms’ Accountability

  • Intending to keep a check on these online platforms and their use, the Ministry for Electronics and IT has notified Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021, framed under the Information Technology Act, 2000.

 

Accountability of Social Media Platforms_40.1

  • The proposed Intermediary Guidelines superseded the existing Intermediary Guidelines Rules, 2011.
  • Guidelines:
    – Intermediaries will need to comply with the prescribed due diligence, and in case they fail to comply, safe harbor provisions will not apply.
    – Compulsory Grievance Redressal Mechanism.
    – Ensuring online safety and dignity of users, especially women users
    – Two categories of social media intermediaries: The rules make a distinction between social media platforms, namely, social media intermediaries and significant social media intermediaries, based on the number of users that have yet to be notified.
    – The significant social media intermediaries shall follow certain additional due diligence in appointing the following: 1. Chief Compliance Officer for compliance and the Officer to be residing in India. 2. Nodal Contact Person for coordination with law enforcement agencies and the Officer to be a resident of India.
    3. Resident Grievance Officer to perform the function under Grievance Redressal Mechanism and Officer to be residing in India. 4. Publish a monthly compliance report on the complaints received, action taken, contents removed proactively by the significant social media intermediary.
  • Social media intermediaries providing messaging services will need to enable identification of the first originator of the information for the purposes of prevention, detection, investigation, prosecution, or punishment of an offence related to sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states.
  • Public order or of incitement to an offence relating to the above or in relation with rape, sexually explicit material or child sexual abuse material punishable with imprisonment for a term of not less than five years.
  • Voluntary User Verification Mechanism
  • Giving Users an opportunity of hearing
  • Intermediaries to take down/remove unlawful information based on a court direction or a government agency’s order.

What has changed?

  • Everybody who is a responsible stakeholder on the Internet right now understands that the jurisprudence around cyberspace is evolving.
  • What was not there yesterday is there today, and what is not there today, will be there tomorrow.

Questions that are Unanswered!

Are these regulations working? Do social media platforms need more stringent laws? Will these regulations curb free speech?

Worldwide attempt for making the Social Media Accountable

  • Australia has been a prominent voice in calling for international regulation of the internet. It passed laws this year that oblige Google and Facebook to pay for journalism. Australia also defied the tech companies by creating a law that could imprison social media executives if their platforms stream violent images.
  • The U.K.’s draft Online Safety Bill, the French cyber hate speech law and the EU terrorist content regulation all contain similar provisions.
  • Likewise, US & China are also working on it.

Why IT Rules and a New Law Need of the Hour?

  • What’s happening with social media intermediaries in the US is precisely why the IT rules are very important because they create an accountability relationship between them and the user.
  • There is an absolute relationship between the user who feels the intermediary is being unfair, biased and prejudicial.
  • The consumer has the right to raise that grievance, and the intermediary is obliged to respond to it… I don’t see any role for the government there.
  • It’s really about accountability to the users, accountability of the intermediaries to ensure that they are non-discriminatory, that they respect Articles 14, 19, 21 of the Constitution, vis-a-vis every one of our consumers.
  • The government is looking at the European model to formulate the new law, including the Digital Services Act submitted by the European Commission in December 2020. The guidelines will depend on the Personal Data Protection Bill.
  • In the upcoming days, the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019, now under scrutiny by a Joint Parliamentary Committee, could play a big role in providing robust protections to users and their personal data.

Conclusion

There are laws across the globe that govern how social media functions. We can thoroughly study all those laws and can develop our own laws pertaining to insuring accountability of social media in our country. And definitely, the new law must go beyond content moderation.

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