New IT Rules: Government panels to hear users' appeal against Facebook, Twitter and other social media companies

5 months ago 358


Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology

has issued a notification amending the

IT Rules

. In the notification, the ministry said a three-member Grievance Appellate Committees (GACs) will be set up by the Centre. These appellate panels seek to redress grievances that users may have against decisions of social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook on hosting contentious content. Incidentally, the move comes on the day Tesla CEO and the world's richest man

Elon Musk

has completed his $44-billion takeover of Twitter.
The amended rules will arm social media users with a grievance appeal mechanism in the form of appellate committees that will look into complaints filed by individuals against decisions of grievance officers of social media platforms. Soon after the amendments were notified, IT minister

Ashwini Vaishnaw

tweeted: "Empowering users. Grievance Appellate Committee (GAC) has been introduced for hearing appeals against decisions of Grievance Officers appointed by the intermediary". In another tweet, the minister said, "Privacy policy and user agreements of intermediary to be made available in the Eight Schedule Indian languages'.
Timeline for GACs
The three-member Grievance Appellate Committee(s) will be set in three months, says the MeitY's a gazette notification. The appellate committees will be able to review content moderation and other decisions by social media companies.
What do the new social media rules say
The government has, in the new rules, added objectionable religious content (with intent to incite violence) alongside pornography, trademark infringements, fake information and something that could be a threat to sovereignty of the nation that users can flag to social media platforms. Their decisions on such flaggings can be challenged in the grievance committees. "The central government shall, by notification, establish one or more grievance appellate committees within three months from the date of commencement of the Information Technology (

Intermediary Guidelines


Digital Media Ethics Code

) Amendment Rules, 2022," the notification said.
Why the need for the new rules
While big tech companies had been advocating self-regulation, the government seems to have taken a view that users' concerns about content on social media platforms need to be addressed by a grievance appellate body. The amended rules seek to strengthen the grievance redressal mechanism. The amendments provide for social media platforms to acknowledge user complaints within 24 hours, and resolve them within 15 days thereafter. The rules provide for social media platforms to take down certain contentious content within 72 hours of reporting.
The complaints could range from child sexual abuse material to nudity to trademark and patent infringements, misinformation, impersonation of another person, content threatening the unity and integrity of the country as well as "objectionable" content that promotes "enmity between different groups on the grounds of religion or caste with the intent to incite violence".
The government had, in February 2021, notified IT rules that provided for social media platforms to appoint a grievance officer. Users at the first stage flag complaints against content or another user, to the grievance officer. The government had, in February 2021, notified the IT Rules (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code), 2021 for social media apps, online news portals, news aggregators and OTT platforms. However, even after providing for the redressal mechanism through the IT Rules, 2021, many user grievances remained unresolved, prompting the government to step in and propose an appellate jurisdiction framework.
How will GACs be structured
Each grievance appellate committee will consist of a chairperson and two whole-time members appointed by the central government, of which one will be a member ex-officio and two shall be independent members. "Any person aggrieved by a decision of the grievance officer may prefer an appeal to the grievance appellate committee within a period of thirty days from the date of receipt of communication from the grievance officer," it said.
The grievance appellate panel will deal with such appeal "expeditiously" and make an endeavour to resolve the appeal finally within thirty calendar days from the date of receipt of the appeal.

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