Social media complaints boards: Government to go ahead despite concerns

The Department of Electronics and IT (MeitY) has received final approval from the Legal Department for its proposal to create government-appointed bodies that will be empowered to make decisions about content moderation and user complaints from social media companies like Facebook to review and possibly undo , Twitter and YouTube, The Indian Express has learned.

The proposed changes, first introduced in June as part of the Information Technology Rules (IT Rules) draft amendments 2021, are known to have been finalized, with the final version expected to be communicated within this week, official sources informing the development said are .

The development comes amid criticism from civil society activists who have expressed concerns about the government’s involvement in the appeals process, and despite the government originally saying it would be open to social media companies to set up a self-regulatory body among themselves if they did The Government found the functioning of the body satisfactory.

In essence, what the changes mean is that if a user is dissatisfied with a content moderation decision made by a social enterprise’s complaints officer, they can appeal that decision to the proposed government-appointed complaints panel. The government’s original proposal followed complaints from users about deplatforming or removal from a social media site, without companies giving them a proper opportunity to be heard.

The center will set up one or more grievance committees (GACs) within three months of the final changes being announced, according to a senior government official. Each GAC shall have a Chair and two full-time members appointed by the Center, one of whom will be a government official. The GAC will also have two “independent members,” the official said. The original draft of the changes had not made clear the exact composition of the GAC.

It is expected that the final rules will also allow the GAC to seek assistance from those who may have appropriate expertise and experience in a particular area while dealing with user appeals. The GAC could introduce an “online dispute resolution mechanism” where the entire complaints process, from filing to the final decision, would be conducted online. Social media companies are also required to compile and report on their respective websites each order submitted by the GAC.

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Criticized by activists

The development has been criticized by civil society activists, who have raised concerns about government involvement in the appeal process.

Any person aggrieved by a decision by a social media intermediary’s Complaints Officer may lodge a complaint with the GAC within thirty days. The GAC is expected to process the appeal and make a decision within one month of receipt of the appeal.

Requests to MeitY were not answered until publication.

The government’s proposal to monitor decisions made by social media platforms on content moderation and user complaints had drawn the ire of civil society activists. For example, the Delhi-based digital rights group Internet Freedom Foundation said in a submission to MeitY in July that the provision “could make the central government (rather than an independent judicial or regulatory body) the arbiter of permissible expression on the internet. It would encourage social media platforms to quash any speech that may not be palatable to the government, officials or those who can exert political pressure.”

The government had previously given social media platforms the option of creating a self-regulatory body to handle user complaints, provided companies could demonstrate their system was effective. In response, social media companies, along with industry body Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), had outlined the contours of a self-regulatory mechanism. However, The Indian Express had previously reported that companies such as Meta and Twitter had supported the self-regulatory body, but Snap and Google resisted certain contours of it and raised concerns about the potential inability to legally challenge final content moderation decisions of a self-regulatory body. Governing body, in addition to differences in moderation policies across platforms.

In an interaction with that paper in August, Chandrasekhar had also said that the self-regulatory body cannot be “dominated by big tech” and should be equally represented by smaller startups. “We want diversity, smaller Indian and foreign start-ups represented equally and visibly, and a policy that is also made with their contributions,” he had previously said.



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