The IT rules were strengthened in October to pave the way for the formation of a centrally appointed panel to redress the grievances of social media users.
The government is mulling three Grievance Appellate Committees (GACs) to look into user grievances against the decisions of social media platforms, IT ministry sources said, and consultations on various modalities of the panels will begin in January.
The IT rules were strengthened in October to pave the way for the formation of a Centre-appointed panel to redress user complaints, which are often ignored, against the way social media platforms address their complaints about content and other matters.
Simply put, these panels will be able to review content moderation decisions by social media companies like Facebook(Meta) and Twitter, and overturn decisions by big tech companies on takedown or blocking requests. The government said the move was necessary due to the digital platform’s “casual” and “tokenism” approach to user complaints.
Sources told PTI that there will be 3 Grievance Appellate Panels which will be assigned different types of appeals based on the categories of harmful content mentioned in the recently amended IT Rules. Broadly, these appeals can be around complaints related to sexually explicit content, misinformation or religious incitement.
The government, in the new rules, has added objectionable religious content (with the intent to incite violence) along with pornography, trademark infringement, fake information and anything that may threaten the nation’s sovereignty, which content users can flag on social media. Platform The decisions of the social media platform on such complaints may be challenged in the complaints committees.
Sources in the IT Ministry said appeals relating to areas other than those listed in the revised IT rules would be directed to the concerned authority or tribunal. In such cases, the GAC will act as a signpost, redirecting complaints to the relevant authority and tribunal, while informing the complainant that their complaint has been forwarded to the relevant agency.
The structure, design and functions of Social Media Complaints Appeal Committees, and how they deal with appeals – all such nuances will be put out for stakeholder consultation in early January.
Sources said that while the IT ministry has repeatedly told social media companies that it is open to the industry to propose an effective self-regulatory model and, in fact, is still open to the option, GACs will be put in place in the interim. If the industry can, indeed, propose a better solution, the IT ministry is ready to consider it, sources said.
Social media platforms’ alleged arbitrary actions on flagged content or intermediaries not responding quickly enough to user complaints have sparked discontent. The latest move will equip users with a grievance appeal mechanism in the form of appeal committees that will look into complaints filed by individuals against the decisions of the social media platform’s grievance officers.
Notably, the newly-amended IT rules also impose a legal obligation on social media companies to make every effort to prevent prohibited content and misinformation, and the government has made it clear that platforms like Twitter and Facebook operating in India will have to comply. By local laws and constitutional rights of Indian users.
In October, state IT minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar, detailing the changes in IT rules, said the millions of messages surrounding unresolved user complaints reflected the “broken” grievance redressal mechanism offered by the platform.
The minister emphasized that while the government will partner with social media companies towards the common goal of ensuring that the internet remains open, secure and trustworthy for Indians, it will not hesitate to crack down, crackdown where the public interest is compromised.