Last week, the ministry had issued a draft with the same proposal, but withdrew it within hours. The fresh draft, floated by MeitY late on Monday night, however, is largely the same as the earlier proposal.
What are the proposed amendments to the IT Rules, 2021?
The draft proposes to create government-appointed appeal committees that will be empowered to review and possibly reverse content moderation decisions taken by social media companies. “The Central Government shall constitute one or more Grievance Appellate Committees, which shall consist of a Chairperson and such other Members, as the Central Government may, by notification in the Official Gazette, appoint,” MeitY said in the draft.
What it essentially means is that in case a user is not satisfied with the content moderation decision taken by a company’s grievance officer, they can appeal that decision before the proposed government-appointed appeals committee. “Every order passed by the Grievance Appellate Committee shall be complied with by the concerned intermediary,” the ministry said in the draft. Currently, the only recourse a user has against companies’ content decisions is to approach the courts.
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Apart from this, the new proposal also suggests placing additional responsibilities on grievance officers appointed by social media companies. It says that if a user complains about content which is “patently false”, infringes copyright, and threatens the integrity of India, among other things, a grievance officer will have to expeditiously address it within 72 hours. Under current rules, grievance officers have 15 days to act on and dispose of users’ complaints.
Draft up for discussion
The draft, which is up for public consultation for 30 days, triggered concerns about the government overriding the decisions of social media platforms.
What prompted the amendments?
In a press release issued late on Monday, MeitY said the proposed amendments will ensure that “Constitutional rights of Indian citizens are not contravened by any big tech platform by ensuring new accountability standards”. The new draft, it said, will ensure “actual enforcement of requirements in IT Rules, 2021 in letter and spirit”.
“The IT Rules, 2021 provide for a robust grievance redressal mechanism. However, there have been many instances that grievance officers of intermediaries either do not address the grievances satisfactorily and/or fairly. In such a scenario, the need for an appellate forum has been proposed to protect the rights and interests of users,” MeitY said in the press release.
According to a senior government official, de-platforming of users by social media companies without allowing them an opportunity to explain their actions is a recurring complaint that the government has received from users. This, as per the official, suggests there are gaps in the rules that were implemented in May last year and the proposed amendments would fill those gaps.
As per the IT Rules, 2021, that came into effect last year, social media companies like Facebook and Twitter are mandated to appoint India-based resident grievance officers as part of their due diligence as ‘intermediaries’ who enjoy legal immunity from third-party content on their platform. These officers are responsible for overseeing the grievance redressal mechanism of complaints from the people who use their services.
Have there been concerns raised around the proposals?
The proposal to set up government-appointed committees has triggered concerns about the government overriding social media platforms’ content decisions.
Reacting to the proposal while it was made in the last draft, Delhi-based digital rights group Internet Freedom Foundation had said, “The proposal, without any legislative basis, seeks to subject content on social media to the direct scrutiny of the government by permitting users to appeal decisions of social media platforms to a Grievance Appellate Committee constituted by MeitY”.
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