#Accountability, for social media – The Financial Instances

GoI has introduced an element of scrutiny in content moderation decisions of social media platforms that should act as an incentive for more proactive user grievance redressal. Changes announced last week to information technology rules are expected to better align Big Tech’s interpretation of freedom of expression with Indian constitutional safeguards. This is to be accomplished, without specific penal provisions, through appealing bodies where independent members will be in majority. This soft law enforcement action puts some distance between the government and the interpretation of citizen’s rights while requiring social media companies to operate with a legal obligation. The deterrence built into the move levels the field in favor of the consumer of information, who otherwise has only the option of legal recourse.

Social media is now required to ensure no unlawful content, including deliberate misinformation, is uploaded by any user. This is as opposed to the earlier requirement of merely informing users about content rules. Consumer consent is likewise better served by seeking it in the language of interaction on a social media platform. Takedowns and grievance redressal are to be time-bound, the absence of which is the proximate cause for the rule changes. GoI is approaching the matter as a reluctant umpire seeking improved self-policing. This is in line with its approach to regulation of legacy media formats.

In themselves, the new rules should not compromise the freedom of speech that social media firms contract to offer users unless they overreact in policing. Tech companies can benefit by proactively sharing with lawmakers their evolving human and algorithmic content moderation practices. The manpower deployed by companies to detect and take down illegal content is nowhere near what is required to scrub social media clean. More so because of the nature of illegal content changes with jurisdiction. For instance, the EU enforces content policing rules, but leaves it to individual countries to decide what is unlawful.

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