Speaking at the inaugural event of the India Internet Governance Forum 2021 (IIGF 2021) on Thursday (November 25), IT Minister, Ashwini Vaishnaw stressed the importance of the internet in boosting the economy and thus, the need for its governance.
He said that content-language, creation, consumption, access and modes have changed over time. “With these fundamental changes, we certainly need a fundamental rethink of the entire governance structure of the Internet,” Vaishnaw said during the session.
He called upon discussion from participants at the forum who should be held accountable in the case of content on social media causing any disruption.
Notably, the IIGF is an UN-IGF-partnered initiative that aims to bring multiple stakeholders of the internet, to discuss public policy issues related to the internet. Other topics for discussion during the forum included ecommerce, cybersecurity, innovations within startups, adoption of vernacular internet, a roadmap for the digital economy, etc.
Self Regulation With Government Oversight Vs Independent Regulation
In February 2021, the government also introduced the new IT Rules, 2021 regarding due diligence, grievance redressal and self-regulation for news portals, social media and OTT platforms. The rules currently only subject social media platforms to remove content pieces, block accounts and set up grievance redressal mechanisms. They can’t be held liable for user-generated content on their platform.
Pointing out that social media users are influenced by WhatsApp messages or Facebook pages, believing them to be 100% true, “Who is going to take the responsibility for that content?” Vaishnaw questioned.
“It should be clearly defined [that who will be held accountable] so that there is a responsibility for the written word on somebody [and] it becomes part of the society as an acceptable form,” he added.
The debate comes parallel to the draft of the Data Protection Bill (PDP) being filed for the winter session in the parliament. The parliamentary panel has recommended treating social media platforms as publishers. This will make them accountable for user-generated content, adding that a regulatory body, the likes of the Press Council of India, oversee them.
The PDP Bill proposes over 200 amendments, and the central argument in dissent notes shared by the opposition is that it rules out the fundamental right to speech and expression. Some have also argued that accountability on data should not be limited to private companies, but should also include central government and central law enforcing agencies, which are presently exempt.