Social corporations eye self-regulatory physique to sort out content material points

Global Internet corporations – Meta (Facebook), Twitter, and Google are drawing up the structure for a self-regulatory body to handle appeals by social media users in India over content and takedown issues, multiple people aware of the matter told ET. The proactive move by the social media giants comes in the wake of the Center proposing a Grievance Appellate Committee (GAC) in its draft amendments to the IT Rules, 2021, triggering sustained resistance from the intermediaries.

The latest proposal by the social media intermediaries is likely to be taken for detailed discussions with the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology by the end of this week or the next week, the sources said. The self-regulatory framework envisions the creation of a panel headed by either a retired chief justice or a judge of the Supreme Court or one of the high courts of the country. Other members will be drawn from the ranks of the industry, independent technology policy experts and one or two members as appointed by the government, they added.

“We are willing to take the onus of the self-regulated body under the guidance of the ministry. Once the structure is finalised, we will present it to the government for their approval,” said one industry executive on condition of anonymity.

Mails sent to Meta, and Google on the proposed structure did not elicit any response, while Twitter said it did not have any comments to share on the issue.

The Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), which is the representative body of more than 470 internet companies, including top social media intermediaries such as Google, Meta, and Twitter, has also recommended a self-regulated body as a GAC. The IAMAI is leading the charge on getting industry consensus on the self-regulatory body. The consultations are expected to be finalized in a week’s time, industry executives said.

Earlier in response to industry pushback on the government’s proposal for a GAC, minister of state for electronics and information technology Rajeev Chandrasekhar had said the center was open to the idea of ​​social media intermediaries setting up a self-regulatory body else the government would have to form its own committee in order to protect user “harm”.

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In a statement to ET on the latest developments, IAMAI said that it “echoes the government sentiment about self-regulation as a policy intervention. We believe that it is the ideal scenario for all the stakeholders involved as it achieves the government’s goal with minimal business disruption. Keeping this in mind IAMAI has also proposed self-regulation as a recommendation in our formal response to the government’s consultation on the proposed amendments to IT Rules of 2021.”

The government’s proposal to compress the timeline for responding to user grievances to 72 hours from 96 hours has also raised concerns. According to sources, IAMAI in its recommendation has pointed out that intermediaries will find it difficult to adhere to the “truncated” timelines.

The proposal for a government appointed GAC has come under severe criticism from global as well as domestic tech policy and business advisory groups. Earlier this month major US lobby groups – the US-India Business Council (USIBC), and US-India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF) that count firms like Facebook and Twitter as their members wrote letters to MEITY raising concerns about how such a panel could act independently if the government controls its formation.

However, a senior government official recently told ET that it has not yet received a concrete proposal from the industry and in a scenario where the industry fails to come up with self-regulation, the government will be “forced to set up a committee” to take care of the grievances of social media users.

“The objective of the appellate tribunal (GAC) is to make sure that social media intermediaries do not take grievance redressal mechanisms lightly, which is what is happening today. They (social media platforms) receive a grievance in the form of an email, you send an acknowledgment and that is it? That is not grievance redressal,” a senior government official told ET last week.

ET had reported on July 23 that the government has, in order to retain the independence of the GAC, proposed to appoint only one or two members to the panel, who will mainly act as a liaison with the industry.

While the government has not yet finalized the structure of the proposed GAC, the official said that apart from the government-appointed member, the panel would have other eminent members and independent experts from the technology and policy domain. It was, however, unlikely that “any executives from social media intermediaries or internet companies” would be included “on the board of the appellate body,” the official had told ET.

The GAC, proposed under the draft of the amendment to IT Rules of 2021, has suggested a forum that aims to provide users with a primary option to “appeal against the grievance redressal process of social media companies” before approaching any court.

As per the proposed draft, although users would still have the option to approach a court of law if they so wished, the GAC would give them the option to be heard without spending the necessary legal and other fees.

Last month, the IT ministry completed public consultations with industry experts, lawyers and representatives of social media intermediaries on proposed changes to the IT Rules of 2021 which were released on June 6.

“It is our thinking that if the industry and these platforms come up with their own self-regulatory, self-redressal appeal mechanism, we are open to it. Today there is nothing,” Minister of State Chandrasekhar had said during an open house discussion held on June 23. It had also asked all stakeholders to submit comments on amendments by July 6.

Senior officials said the IT ministry has received close to 100 suggestions, some of which it is studying in more detail with the help of external subject matter and legal experts.

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