New Delhi, October 27
The government on Friday notified rules under which it will set up appeal boards to address grievances users may have against decisions by social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook on hosting contentious content.
The three-member grievance appeal committee(s) will be set up in three months, said an official gazette notification issued by the MeitY (Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology) .
The government has, in the new rules, added objectionable religious content (with the intention of inciting violence) alongside pornography, trademark infringement, false information and anything that could pose a threat to the sovereignty of the nation that users can report to social media platforms. Their decisions on these reports can be challenged before the Complaints Committees.
While big tech companies advocated self-regulation, the government appears to have taken the view that user concerns about content on social media platforms should be dealt with by a grievance appeal body.
The government had, in February 2021, notified IT rules that provided for social media platforms to appoint a complaints officer. Stage 1 Users report complaints against the Content or another User to the Complaints Officer.
The rules have now been changed by Friday’s notification to strengthen the grievance redress mechanism.
The amendments provide that social media platforms acknowledge receipt of user complaints within 24 hours and resolve them within 15 days.
Complaints could range from child sexual abuse material and nudity to trademark and patent violations, misinformation, impersonation of another person, unity-threatening content and integrity of the country as well as “objectable” content that promotes “enmity between different groups on the grounds of religion or caste with the intention of inciting violence”.
The rules call for social media platforms to remove certain contentious content within 72 hours of reporting.
Appeals panels will be able to review content moderation and other decisions of social media companies such as Meta and Twitter.
“The central government shall, by notification, establish one or more grievance appeal committees within three months from the effective date of the Information Technology Amendment Rules (Guidelines for Intermediaries and digital media code of ethics), 2022,” the notification read.
Each grievance appeal committee will consist of a chairperson and two full-time members appointed by central government, one of whom will be an ex-officio member and two will be independent members.
“Anyone aggrieved by a decision of the grievance officer may appeal to the grievance appeal committee within thirty days of the date of receipt of the communication from the grievance officer,” he said. declared.
The Grievance Appeals Committee will deal with such appeal “promptly” and will endeavor to finally resolve the appeal within thirty calendar days from the date of receipt of the appeal.
If the Grievance Appeals Committee, within the framework of the examination of the appeal, deems it necessary, it may request the assistance of any person having the qualification, experience and expertise required in the matter.
“The Grievance Appeals Committee will adopt an online dispute resolution mechanism in which the entire appeal process, from filing the appeal to the decision of the appeal, will be conducted digitally,” he said. he declared.
Incidentally, the move comes at a time when electric car maker Tesla Inc CEO Elon Musk has completed his $44 billion takeover of Twitter, putting the world’s richest man at the helm of one of the most influential social media apps in the world.
However, changes to IT rules have been in the works for months, ever since users reported instances of digital platforms acting arbitrarily. The latest initiative will provide users with a grievance appeal mechanism in the form of appeal boards that will review complaints filed by individuals against the decisions of social media platform grievance officers.
The government had, in February 2021, notified the IT Rules (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Code of Ethics), 2021 for social media applications, online news portals, news aggregators and OTT platforms. However, even after providing for the appeals mechanism through the 2021 IT rules, many user grievances remained unresolved, prompting the government to step in and come up with an appeals jurisdiction framework.
There had been pushback from industry and some stakeholders on the grievance appeal board proposal after the government in June circulated draft rules on it. At present, “there is no appeal mechanism provided by intermediaries nor a credible self-regulatory mechanism in place,” the IT Department said at the time.
“It is proposed to establish an appeals body to be known as the ‘Grievance Appeals Committee’ under Rule 3(3) of the IT Rules 2021 invoking Section 79 of the IT Act in view of further guidance which may be prescribed by the central government. Users will have the opportunity to appeal against the grievance redress process of intermediaries before this new appeal body,” the note accompanying the draft amendment said at the time.
The government has always emphasized that security and trust are public policy goals and missions, and it will do whatever it takes to ensure that appropriate safeguards are in place for digital citizens navigating the digital space. social media and online.
The government has made it clear that social media companies cannot infringe on citizens’ constitutional rights and that the internet must be a safe and trusted place, with all platforms accountable to their users.
There is growing discontent among a section of users who allege that digital platforms engage in arbitrary acts by removing content, or do not respond to grievances quickly enough, despite users flagging them in red.
However, digital rights group Internet Freedom Foundation said in a tweet: “Notified Amendment Rules undermine the digital rights of every Indian social media user.”