- The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Media Ethics Code) Rules that came into effect on 26th May 2021 aim to limit the nature of content that social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, and Instagram, respectively publish. For the uninitiated, these rules were notified by the Union Government in February this year. The key provisions adorning the finer points of the rules are that platforms shall not allow the same to be used as a tool to violate any law in force, or undermine India’s sovereignty and carry something obviously false/fake information leading to law and order situation in the country.
PC: Lydia Suzanne Thomas
- Prima facie, the rules appear to be aimed at ensuring a level playing field for the social media platforms, and hence, this development should not be seen in isolation and consider to be an act of infringing on the rights of freedom and expressions guaranteed under the Constitution. It is also to be understood that the Indian Government is following what is also part of a global trend. Remember, in the internet’s nascent stage of evolution when none of the wonderful digital marvels were yet to be unearthed, these platforms were given immunity from liability by the United States for content posted by the lesser number of users.
- This law of the US, known as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, provided a global template and opened up space for contemporary tech giants who subsequently metamorphosed into present-day behemoths ruling the digital platforms by commanding no less than the parallel economy in terms of scale owing to unprecedented growth witnessed in technological advancements. Note that the playing field was deliberately kept uneven between mainstream media and social media thereby allowing the latter to gobble up the former’s space and hurting credible journalism and news dissemination.
PC: Ellen P. Goodman
- As it stands now, the social media platforms are not only hugely influential through their penetration and boundary-less global reach in the altered scenario, but still wishing to function within a legislative framework of rights without upholding accompanying responsibilities. This is no longer tenable as it goes against the tenet of according a level playing field for all publishing entities. It is also to be noted that these tech giants are under pressure even in the US where the relevance of Section 230 is being questioned repeatedly by lawmakers. To its credit, the tech companies ensure content moderation takes place using sophisticated technology denoting means are not the issue.
- As such, the era of privileges without responsibilities and most importantly, uneven playing fields favouring the social media giants is over. Neither it is feasible nor advisable in continuing to allow digital tech giants to function without shouldering responsibilities. On its part, the Government too should wholeheartedly embrace the modern era by liberalizing laws on content, equally for both mainstream and social media. Invoking senseless colonial-era laws on sedition under the circumstances should not find any place and hence must be repealed forthwith. Hopefully, the Government moves in the right direction without any delay.