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“Goal not to sit on top of Big Tech”; India may consider self regulation of grievance redressal by Social Media

Fresh amendments to the IT Rules 2021 by MeitY propose self-regulation in grievance redressal by social media platforms

“It is not our priority to sit on top of a Big Tech platform and figure out whether they are doing their job or not,” Rajeev Chandrasekhar, the Minister of State for Electronics and Information Technology said at a press briefing held on 7th June, on the fresh amendments proposed to the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code), Rules 2021, according to a report by the Economic Times.

At the briefing, the MoS clarified that the IT Ministry (MeitY) will be open to the creation of self-regulatory grievance redressal appellate bodies by social media companies in place of the government’s proposed Grievance Redressal Committee from the amendment, will expect them to respect fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution. He added that there have been several reports and complaints that the Grievance Officers appointed by platforms, who are designated to deal with user grievances under the Rules, acknowledge grievances and do nothing about them. “If somebody has a better idea or solution that meets the test of ( ensuring) Indian users have accountability (from) platforms, we are open to that idea,” MoS Chandrasekhar also reportedly said at the briefing.

Recap: The IT Rules amendments proposed by MeitY

On 6th June, MeitY had released the proposed amendments for public consultation which includes clauses like a Grievance Appellate Committee (GAC) to appeal Grievance Officers’ decisions, requirements for intermediaries to respect citizens’ ‘constitutional’ rights, ensuring user compliance with their policies, and more.

The institution of a GAC would allow government officers to become an authority over and above a platform’s content moderation decisions- raising fears of increased government censorship. Account actions by social media platforms have increasingly been getting challenged in courts for several reasons, including the impingement on the right to free speech and expression, however platforms have so far argued against that fundamental rights are unenforceable in relations between a platform and their users.

The controversial IT Rules, which this consultation seeks to amend, were enacted in May 2021. Shortly after the rules were enacted, five industry bodies reportedly also wrote to MeitY asking for more clarity on the rules. Now, nearly a year later, MeitY had proposed an amendment to the rules, although they did issue FAQs in November 2021. Details here.

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In brief, below are the amendments proposed by MeitY:

1. Shorter timeline in dealing with user grievances:

The amendment proposes that intermediaries respond to requests for removal within 72 hours, although user grievances or requests other than those related to removal of certain content can continue to be disposed of within 15 days. However, intermediaries can develop safeguards in their grievance redressal process to prevent misuse of such provisions.

2.Provisions for a Grievance Appellate Committee

“Any person aggrieved by an order made by the Grievance Officer under clause (a) and clause (b) of sub-rule (2) of rule 3 may prefer an appeal to the Grievance Appellate Committee having jurisdiction in the matter within a period of 30 days of receipt of communication from the Grievance Officer,” the amendment says.

3. Ensuring compliance with the privacy policy and other terms

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As per the proposed amendment, a proviso will be added to a clause in the rules that not only shall an intermediary inform their rules, privacy policy, user agreement to the user, they shall also cause the user not to host, display, upload, modify, publish, etc. information outlined in due diligence requirements of the rules.

The due diligence requirements ask that intermediaries proactively remove content that is defamatory, obscene, pornographic, infringing on copyrights, etc.

4. Expectation that intermediaries ‘respect constitutional rights’

The amendment proposes adding the following clauses to the rules:

“The intermediary shall respect the rights accorded to the citizens under the Constitution of India.”

5. Opportunity to dispute actions taken by platforms:

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The draft proposes that a user should be provided an opportunity to dispute any action taken by an intermediary, including asking for reinstatement of any content that is taken down. It further says that this should be decided upon by a platform’s Resident Grievance Officer as per the above mentioned timeline (72 hours) for dealing with user complaints

6. Expectations of transparency

The amendment proposes adding the following clause to the rules:

“Intermediary shall take all reasonable measures to ensure accessibility of its services to users along with reasonable expectation of due diligence, privacy and transparency.”

Nikhil adds: Firstly, it’s worth noting that the amendments proposed do not consider the self regulation model. For now, this could just as well be a statement issued to defuse the concerns raised about the Indian government creating an appellate body to regulate social media. If the self regulatory model was under consideration, then why wasn’t there a consultation, instead of an attempt to amend the rules directly? Secondly, it’s also worth nothing that the “Standard Operating Procedures promised by MEITY are yet to see the light of day. We’ve only seen FAQs, which weren’t really worth the time spent reading them.

Lastly, if there have been instances of users not receiving responses to complaints from Grievance Officers, MEITY has every opportunity to pull up compliance officers.

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I cover health technology for MediaNama but, really, love all things tech policy. Always willing to chat with a reader! Reach me at anushka@medianama.com

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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