Accountability of Social Media Platforms

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    In News

    • Recently, the Centre told the Delhi  High Court that social media platforms must be held accountable for subjugating rights.

    About

    • A petition was filed by a Twitter user whose account was suspended by the microblogging site for alleged violations of platform guidelines.

    Centre’s stand

    • Social media platforms must be held accountable for subjugating and supplanting fundamental rights like the right to freedom of speech and expression, otherwise the same would have dire consequences for any democratic nation. 
    • When a Significant Social Media Intermediary (SSMI) such as Twitter takes a decision to suspend the whole or part of a user’s account “on its own accord” due to its policy violation, it should afford a reasonable opportunity to the user to defend his side.
    • The exception where the SSMIs could take such a decision includes certain scenarios such as rape, sexually explicit material or child sexual abuse material, bot activity or malware, terrorism-related content etc.
    • If an SSMI fails to comply with the above, then it may amount to a violation of IT Rules 2021.

    Exception for suspension

    • A social media account can be suspended or de-platformed only in cases such as in:
      • The interest of sovereignty, 
      • security and integrity of India, 
      • friendly relations with foreign States or 
      • public order or 
      • pursuant to a court order or 
      • the content is grossly unlawful such as sexual abuse material etc.

    Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021

    • The term ‘intermediary’ is a broadly defined term in the IT Act covering a range of entities involved in the transmission of electronic records. 
    • The Rules introduce two new sub-categories, being:
      • Social media intermediary is defined (in Rule 2(w)) as one who “primarily or solely enables online interaction between two or more users and allows them” to exchange information; and
      • Significant social media intermediary (SSMI) comprising social media intermediaries with more than five million registered users in India (following this Government notification of the threshold). 
    • The Government may order any intermediary to comply with the same obligations as SSMIs (under Rule 6) if their services are adjudged to pose a risk of harm to national security, the sovereignty and integrity of India, India’s foreign relations or to public order.  
    • SSMIs have to follow substantially more onerous “additional due diligence” requirements to claim the intermediary safe harbour (including mandatory traceability of message originators, and proactive automated screening as discussed below). 
    • These new requirements raise privacy concerns and data security concerns, as they extend beyond the traditional ideas of the platform  “due diligence”, they potentially expose the content of private communications and in doing so create new privacy risks for users in India.    

    Source: TH