Govt to start with one or two GACs, to present structure, working soon- QHN

The government will start redressing social media grievances by appointing one or two committees at the beginning and will appoint more of them if their need expands in the future, Minister of State for Electronics and IT Rajeev Chandrasekhar said on Saturday.

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) on Friday tweaked IT Rules, 2021. The newly inserted rules allow the government to appoint multiple grievance appellate committees (GACs) to redress complaints over social media content moderation. Chandrasekhar said the government will present the structure, the organisation, and the workings of the GAC very shortly.

Several big tech companies had expressed reservations over the GACs, which can overturn the decisions taken by grievance officers of social media companies.

“There is a question from the industry on whether GAC can be morphed into a self-regulatory organisation. I have said this before: the government is not interested in playing the role of an ombudsman. It is not something we have the capacity and capability to do. But this is a responsibility, reluctantly,” Chandrasekhar said.

The minister said the government did not intend to increase difficulties for intermediaries to operate in India, but the provision to appoint GACs was only to deliver accountability to Indian citizens. He added that the current grievance redress mechanism had severe flaws. “We have lakhs of messages from citizens and digital Nagariks whose grievance was not responded to and that is not acceptable for us,” he said.

Most of the contentious provisions in part 2 of the rules remained unchanged in the final version. For instance, the provision that requires intermediaries to address content removal notices within 72 hours has been included in the rules. The minister said this will put a greater obligation on social media companies to prevent the spread of unlawful content on their platforms.

“The obligations of intermediaries earlier were limited to notifying users of rules but now there will be much more definite obligations on platforms. Intermediaries have to make efforts so that no unlawful content is posted on the platform,” he said.

Chandrasekhar also said that social media platforms should publish their rules, regulations, privacy policy, and user agreement in English and all of the 22 official languages listed in the eighth schedule of the Constitution. However, the newly added rule does not prescribe a compliance mandate for it as of now.

The minister further said the government aims to partner with companies on the internet to achieve a safe and trusted internet.

“The government wants to work with the intermediaries and all the companies that are on the internet – big and small, Indian and foreign. We want to work in a partnership model to ensure that our common objective of a safe and trusted internet for all our Indian citizens is met,” he said.

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