Not only social media, the new IT bill amendment will also affect news sites.That’s it

Under the Information Technology Act 2000, a three-member Grievance and Appeals Board will be established to resolve complaints against intermediaries, effectively “Authorized user”, as Minister of Information Technology Ashwini Vashnau Did you agree?

Tech policy experts aren’t so sure. They argue that the committee announced by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology on October 28 gave the government the power to comprehensively censor the Internet.

“This amendment, which gives the government God-mode status in terms of social media content, is a year and a half away from the Lok Sabha elections,” said the group’s founder Nikhil Pahwa. media namea website covering technology policies.

The amendment applies to social media platforms, e-commerce sites like Amazon, search engines like Google, dating apps like Bumble, and sites for hosting services like GoDaddy and Amazon Web Services.

Will this revision help end users?

The Internet Freedom Foundation, an organization dedicated to free speech, digital surveillance and net neutrality, claims the committees are essentially a government censorship of social media that will make bureaucrats the arbiters of free speech online.

It said the amendment “will undoubtedly harm the digital rights of every Indian social media user”.

Even though Section 69A of the Information Technology Act 2000 does not allow the government to do so, the provisions effectively allow government agencies to censor content posted by users, said Krishnesh Bapat, associate litigator at the Internet Freedom Foundation.

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This section deals with the government’s power to block public access to content in order to maintain national security.

“These amendments will adversely affect the diversity of discourse and opinion on social media platforms,” ​​Bapat said.

Vasudev Devadasan, a technology policy scholar at the Centre for Communication Governance at the National Law School in Delhi, agreed that the commission will provide recourse to users frustrated by failed content moderation on social media platforms.

But he questioned the committee’s ability to handle cases quickly. “India’s judicial and quasi-judicial institutions have a poor record of dealing with disputes in a timely manner,” he said.

Devadasan added that the committees will only help a small number of social media users with the knowledge and resources to appeal.

Will it affect the news?

While news sites are not on the list of intermediaries affected by this amendment, the platforms hosting their sites are. A web hosting service is like the landlord of a website on the internet.

If someone tries to remove an item from a news site by complaining to the web hosting company’s ombudsman and is not satisfied with the resolution, they can appeal to the committee and have it removed.

In August 2021, the Bombay High Court suspended two provisions of the Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Code of Ethics for Digital Media) Rules 2021, which require publishers of news on the Internet and publishers of online curated content to comply with a code of ethics , and provide for a government-led three-level grievance mechanism.

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The court said the rules violated freedom of speech and expression by allowing government agencies to censor content posted by digital news platforms.

Pava median The new amendments “make the government the arbiter of truth for journalism”, warns.

He added: “While we may not see much activity right now, things like farmers protests, CAA-NRC [Citizenship Amendment Act-National Register of Citizens] Protests, or during the election, we’ll see the impact of these two regulations on speech and journalism. “

Committee and how it works

Each Grievance Appeals Board will consist of a chair and two full-time federally appointed members, one officer and two independent members.

If a user’s post is removed by the social media platform, they must first appeal the decision to the platform’s grievance officer. If users are not satisfied with the decision, they have 30 days to challenge it to the Grievance Appeals Board.

Users will be able to lodge complaints with the Grievance Appeals Board using the online portal.

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The committee will have 30 days to decide whether the social media platform’s decision was the right one. If needed, these committees can seek help from someone who has experience or who can be considered an expert on that particular subject matter.

If the committee believes a social media platform’s decision is unfair, it will ask the platform to reverse the decision, restore deleted posts and publish a compliance report on its platform.

“Accountability Theater”

Those committees will face many challenges, experts say.

First, social media platforms handle tens of thousands of content moderation requests every day. Hearing those appeals would be a significant challenge, experts say, even if a fraction of those decisions are challenged before the committee.

In addition, the government has been criticized for a lack of transparency in how the Grievance and Appeals Board operates.

Important questions remain unanswered, such as who can be a committee member, what guidelines they will follow, what qualifications the government is looking for, whether members are employees of the federal government or the Ministry of Information Technology or independent contractors, and how they will be paid.

Prateek Waghre, policy director at the Internet Freedom Foundation, said the government’s approach to content moderation was neither appropriate nor scalable to meet the many challenges in the current information ecosystem.

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“It relies on decisions made on individual content to try to address systemic issues arising from broader societal-level issues to produce ‘the theatre of accountability,'” he argues.

“Given the complexities involved, the aggregation of individual decisions will not address the underlying problem because they are neither repeatable nor broadly applicable.”

The three-person committee will have to deal with a different set of challenges, such as finding a balance between the newsworthiness of the subject and the harm it can cause to some parties, understanding the socio-political context, and understanding multilingual content in various formats.

Despite their massive resources, social media platforms have struggled with content moderation for years. In fact, some technological solutions, such as the deployment of artificial intelligence, have given rise to more discrimination and bias problems.

There was no answer from the office of Rajeev Chandrasekhar, Union Minister of State for Electronics and Information Technology roll inCriticism of the amendment and whether the committee will be challenged by the Right to Know Act. But it said the government would release more information on the Grievance Appeals Board in the coming days.

This article will be updated as the Minister responds to the remaining questions.

Will power be abused?

Experts believe that social media platforms will now be incentivized to delete, suppress or flag any speech that displeases the government or those applying political pressure.

Before the modification, if users wanted to remove the content, they had to obtain a court order. Judges will decide the legality of the content and weigh free speech and public interest issues before removing it.

Under the amendments, intermediaries have 72 hours to decide whether to remove flagged content. If they fail to remove the content within 72 hours, and it is later found to be illegal, the intermediary may be subject to civil and criminal liability.

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“This creates a strong incentive for intermediaries to remove content after receiving complaints,” Devadasan said. “This in turn creates the risk of users making frivolous complaints about content they disagree with.”

The amendment does not provide a clear threshold for when users can appeal an intermediary’s decision. The government can ensure that questionable material supporting its agenda continues to circulate.

“As the GAC has the power to hear complaints from users whose content has been removed by social media intermediaries for violating their community guidelines or terms of use, the government will also be able to force social media platforms to display content that those platforms find violate their norms,” The Internet Freedom Foundation said in a statement on its website.

Can the center’s removal order be challenged?

In July, Twitter sued the Indian government in the Karnataka High Court, challenging the content removal order. The platform claimed in its petition that the government’s order was “substantially and procedurally” inconsistent with the blocking powers under Section 69A of the IT Act 2000.

This section allows the government to block public access to content in the interest of national security.

Twitter also claims that it does not require a government order to delete certain accounts and tweets — including those of politicians, activists and journalists — in the interest of public order.

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Experts say users whose material has been removed at the government’s request are unlikely to get relief from the committee.

“When the government decides to block content, the decision to block is made by an inter-ministerial committee, not an intermediary ombudsman,” Devadasan said. “It is therefore unlikely that the GAC’s remit will include a challenge to the government’s lockdown order.”

Google, Meta (which owns Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp) and Sharechat declined to answer by roll in. This story will be updated if Snap (formerly Snapchat) responds to the query.

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