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Community standards need to have consistency, tech platforms have too much power: Jay Panda

Baijayant Jay Panda, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s spokesperson and National Vice-President, on Wednesday said that large internet platforms have the power to make users, including heads of state, irrelevant because of their dominance.

Panda’s comments were made during the Raisina Dialogue conference, organised by the Oberver Research Foundation. During a panel discussion, Panda criticised the gatekeeping role that large technology platforms play. He said corporate executives should not have the power to remove users — referring to Donald Trump getting booted off of social media sites — since they are not elected leaders.

If it’s a startup company providing a new service that a politician uses, you can take it or leave it and they can choose not to serve you and you can find somebody else. But when the 5-7 big tech giants choose not to serve you, you are effectively off the grid. This has happened to normal people and to heads of state. Even if one disagrees with what a head of state says, deplatforming should not be a power with unaccountable people, whom nobody elected, to take those decisions. These issues should be addressed by the courts by regulatory systems and not by corporate executives.

He said platforms acting as gatekeepers was one of the most important developments today.

One of the most important developments is the gatekeepers issue large tech giants are today sit in judgement as to what can be purveyed and what cannot be availed is an issue and a problem. Large companies like Standard Oil not just became monopolies but became something akin to utilities where an average person couldn’t do without them, and the government had to step in, and regulate them.

Panda also drew parallels between the US Capitol Storming and the events at the Red Fort both of which took place in January this year. He said that internet platforms reacted inconsistently to events in the US and here in India.

Just three weeks after the storming of the US Capitol, something almost identical happened on India’s Republic Day when rioters went inside the heart of Delhi and desecrated one of the republic’s symbols. The very same platforms and titans, who had taken a certain stance on misuse of technology, took a totally different stand when it came to India. They continued to provide a platform to those who were urging and indulging in violence. Community standards need to have consistency; you can’t have a different one for Capitol hill and a different one for Red Fort of India, these are the two largest democracies in the world. Platforms are no longer neutral purveyors of other people’s opinions.

Neighbours involved in cyber warfare: Panda

When it comes to a country like India and the kind of neighbourhood we live in, we have serious issues that go beyond social media, Panda said. “We have neighbouring countries that employ hundreds of thousands of people that has millions that engage actively in something that can be described as cyberwarfare. Electricity grid has been impacted and fingers have been pointed in that direction,” he said. Adding that some of these players hijack public platforms including social media platforms, to and leverage them in a way that is not healthy for democracy.

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Panda said that the Indian government has tried to address many of these issues under the new Information Technology Rules 2021. “These are not comprehensive answers,and I’m sure we will need to keep amending them because this is a fast changing field. But it’s something that can no longer be brushed under the carpet,” he said.

Without enforcing community guidelines and protecting creators and users from adult content harms can children and so on, we wouldn’t be able to have an open platform, he said, adding that tools to contracting ideas of protecting the community and having an on open platform actually go hand in hand and reinforce each other.

MediaNama has created a guide on how the new IT Rules 2021 impacts different types of online intermediaries, the reactions from various industries, their legal challenges and a little bit of history on how we got here. Guide: All you need to know about the new IT Rules, 2021

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