Jurist could head social media self-regulatory committee, Telecom Information, ET Telecom
New Delhi: Social media intermediaries including Meta and Twitter are proposing a seven-member self-regulatory committee, led either by an eminent jurist or industry senior, to handle appeals by Indian users over content and takedown directives, according to a preparatory document reviewed by ET.
The industry initiative, which seeks to preempt the formation of a government-led grievance redressal forum, is expected to be finalized and “sent to the ministry of electronics and information technology soon,” people in the know said.
The proposal being finalized by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), an apex grouping of global and local social media companies, is mooting the appointment of three members with expertise in areas such as law, minorities, child and human rights, while three more members will be drawn from companies that are signatories to the proposal, the document showed.
The chairperson could be either a retired judge of the Supreme Court, high courts or even a senior executive with at least 15 years of professional experience in areas such as technology or any allied field, it noted.
The proposed committee will take up appeals by users with regard to “removal or reinstatement of user accounts or information, data, or communication links uploaded by users, for violating signatory’s policies,” by resident grievance officers appointed by the intermediaries.
“This, however, can be exercised only after the aggrieved person has exercised existing options made available to users directly by platforms, including their respective help center portals and the grievance redressal channel as laid out under the IT Rules,” said the industry proposal.
Further, it made clear that decisions regarding content which are of “a serious and egregious nature,” or actioned under Section 69A of the IT Act, or uploaded by users with “pre-existing commercial arrangements,” cannot be challenged.
Government Open to Initiative
Meta, Twitter, IAMAI and Google could not be immediately reached for a comment on the proposed structure.
ET was the first to report on July 27 that intermediaries were in the process of drawing up a structure for a self-regulatory body to handle appeals by social media users in India over content and takedown issues — led by retired judge with members drawn from the Ranks of the industry, independent technology policy experts as well as one or two experts appointed by the government.
To be sure, the idea of a self-regulated body has taken shape after the government indicated that it is open to such an initiative. Earlier, the Centre’s proposal to set up its own grievance addressal committee (GAC) in order to protect user “harm” in the latest draft amendments to the IT Rules 2021, had received widespread pushback from across the industry.
However, privacy experts have panned this latest move by the IAMAI-led grouping, arguing that self-regulation will lead to “self-censorship and a vast chilling effect.”
Internet Freedom Foundation, a tech policy advisory body, opposed the creation of such a panel in a public post on Saturday. “We strongly oppose the creation of such a self-regulatory body. Self-regulation will lead to intermediaries exercising extra caution and discretion in the case of politically controversial content, resulting in self-censorship and a vast chilling effect,” the IFF said on Twitter.
Earlier, on August 12, ET reported that of the three major social media intermediaries operating in India, Google has expressed reservations with the IAMAI proposal and questioned the structure, composition, and functionality of the GAC. Meta and Twitter have supported the proposal.
In a statement to ET, a Google spokesperson then said it had held a “preliminary meeting” and was engaged in active discussions with the industry, as well as government officials.
The document reviewed by ET envisages the creation of an industry-regulated GAC, headquartered in New Delhi. While the chairperson and the three expert members will have a term of two years each, the three signatories who will be executives of social media intermediaries, will have a term of one year each, it stated.
Further, it stipulates that the three expert members cannot be employees of the social media intermediaries who are signatories to the proposal, while the three signatory members should not be a member of any other panel formed under the Information Technology (IT) Rules of 2021.
If there is an appeal against any of the signatories to the IAMAI proposal, the social media intermediary named in the appeal shall have to recuse from the panel and can participate in the proceedings only as an observer.
The appeals will also be time-bound, with those against decisions by company-appointed grievance officers required to be verified as “valid” by an administrator or the secretariat of the GAC within 10 working days of the receipt of the appeal, the document stated .
Following the receipt of the appeal, the secretariat shall, within the next three days, forward a copy of the appeal to the concerned social media intermediary named in it, provided they are a signatory to the proposal.
“The secretariat may also call upon such a signatory to share any details that may be required for verification of the appeal. The signatory shall make reasonable efforts to revert on the details sought …within a period of 10 working days upon receipt of such an appeal,” the proposal reads.