Social companies turn to self-regulatory body to resolve content problems

Global Internet corporations – Meta (facebook), Twitteras well as Google form the structure for self-regulatory body consider appeals to social media users in India about content and takedown issues, several people with knowledge of the matter told ET. The active move by the social media giants came after the Center proposed the establishment of a Complaints Appeals Committee (GAC) in its 2021 draft amendments to the IT Rules, to sustained opposition from intermediaries.

The latest proposal from social media intermediaries is likely to be reviewed for detailed discussion with the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology by the end of this or next week, the sources said. The system of self-regulation provides for the creation of a collegium, headed either by a retired chairman of the court, or a judge of the Supreme Court or one of the country’s highest courts. Other members will be drawn from industry representatives, independent technology policy experts and one or two government-appointed members, they added.

“We are ready to take on the burden of a self-regulatory body under the leadership of the ministry. Once the structure is completed, we will submit it to the government for approval,” said one of the industry leaders on condition of anonymity.

Emails sent to Meta and Google about the proposed structure have not elicited any response, while Twitter has said it has no comment on the matter.

The Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), representing over 470 internet companies including leading social media intermediaries such as Google, Meta and Twitter, also recommended the self-regulatory body as GAC. IAMAI is leading the way in building industry consensus for a self-regulatory body. Consultations are expected to be completed in a week, industry leaders said.

Previously, in response to industry opposition to the government’s proposal to create a GAC, the Minister of State for Electronics and Information Technology
Rajeev Chandrasekhar said the center was open to the idea of ​​social media intermediaries creating a self-regulatory body, otherwise the government would have to form its own committee to protect users from “harm”.

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In a statement to ET on the latest developments, IAMAI said it “resonates with the government’s view of self-regulation as a political intervention. We believe this is the ideal scenario for all stakeholders as it achieves the government’s goal with minimal business disruption. With this in mind, IAMAI also proposed self-regulation as a recommendation in our formal response to the government consultation on the proposed 2021 amendments to the IT Regulations.”

The government’s proposal to reduce the response time to user complaints from 96 hours to 72 hours also raised concerns. According to the sources, IAMAI indicated in its recommendation that it would be difficult for mediators to adhere to the “truncated” deadlines.

The government’s proposal to appoint the GAC has been heavily criticized by global as well as internal technical policy groups and business advisors. Earlier this month, major US lobbying groups the US-India Business Council (USIBC) and the US-India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF), which include firms such as Facebook and Twitter, as members wrote to MEITY expressing concern about how such a group can operate independently if the government controls its formation.

However, a senior government official recently told ET that he has not yet received a concrete proposal from the industry, and in the event that the industry fails to self-regulate, the government will be “forced to set up a committee” to take care of complaints from social media users.

“The purpose of the Court of Appeals (GAC) is to ensure that social media intermediaries do not take grievance mechanisms lightly, which is what is happening today. They (social media platforms) receive a complaint in the form of an email, you send a confirmation and that’s it? This is not a complaint,” a senior government official told ET last week.

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

While the government has yet to finalize the proposed GAC structure, the official said that in addition to the government-appointed member, the commission will include other prominent members and independent technology and policy experts. However, it is unlikely that “any CEOs of social media intermediaries or internet companies” will be included “on the board of the appellate body,” an ET official said.

The GAC, proposed under the draft amendment to the IT Regulation 2021, has proposed a forum that aims to provide users with a basic opportunity to “appeal the social media companies’ grievance process” before going to any court.

Under the proposed draft, while users will still have the ability to take legal action if they so choose, the GAC will provide them with the opportunity to be heard without the cost of required legal and other fees.

Last month, the Ministry of Information Technology completed a public consultation with industry experts, lawyers and representatives of social media intermediaries on the proposed changes to the Information Technology Regulations 2021, which were published on June 6.

“We believe that if the industry and these platforms come up with their own self-regulation and redress mechanism, we are open to that. There is nothing today,” State Minister Chandrasekhar said during an outdoor discussion on June 23. He also asked all interested parties to submit comments on the amendments by 6 July.

Senior officials said the information technology ministry has received about 100 proposals, some of which it is studying in more detail with the help of external and legal experts.