The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) has proposed the setting up of government-appointed appellate committees.
- These committees will be empowered to review and possibly reverse content moderation decisions taken by social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
- The proposal has triggered concerns about the government overriding social media companies’ content decisions.
- Under the IT Rules, released in February 2021, social media companies like Facebook and Twitter are mandated to appoint India-based resident grievance officers as part of their due diligence as ‘intermediaries’ who enjoy legal immunity from third-party content on their platform.
- These officers are responsible for overseeing the grievance redressal mechanism of complaints from the people who use their services.
- This means that if a user has an issue with an account or a piece of content on a social media platform, they can complain about it to the company’s grievance officer who will have to act and dispose of that complaint within 15 days.
What is the proposal?
- What MeitY’s draft essentially suggests is that if a user is not satisfied with the content moderation decision taken by a company’s grievance officer, they can appeal that decision before the proposed government-appointed appeals committee.
- Currently, the only remedial measure a user has if they feel a content decision by a company is unfair is to approach the courts.
- The Grievance Appellate Committee is set up to provide an alternative to a user to file an appeal against the decision of the Grievance Officer rather than directly going to the court of law.
How the committee will work?
- The Committee has to dispose of the appeals within 15 days of receiving them and its decision will be binding on the intermediaries or the large social media companies concerned.
- Intermediaries have to acknowledge suspension, removal or blocking of any user or user account or any complaint from its users in the nature of request for removal of information or communication link within 24 hours.
- The Ministry has not specified the composition of the committee.
Criticism of the Proposal –
- The proposal has invited criticism from civil society.
- A Delhi-based digital rights group called Internet Freedom Foundation said that the proposal seeks to subject content on social media to the direct scrutiny of the Government by permitting users to appeal decisions of social media platforms to a Grievance Appellate Committee constituted by MeitY.
- The draft also proposes to place additional responsibilities on grievance officers. It suggests that if a user complains about content which is “patently false”, infringes copyright, and threatens the integrity of India, among other things, a grievance officer will have to expeditiously address it within 72 hours. Current rules require these officers to address all content-related complaints within 15 days.