: The Union government on Friday notified amendments to the controversial information technology (IT) rules, 2021, making a provision for new government “grievance redressal” panels to hear complaints against content moderation decisions taken by social media companies.
The panel members will be appointed by the government which, civil liberties activists have said, will amount to giving the government the final say over what content stays up or is taken down, with the powers to overrule companies like Meta and Twitter if they remove or refuse to act on posts.
HT reported on Friday that the government was set to push through the plan despite concerns expressed by activists and industry representatives.
“These IT rules are the next step to realising our goals of an open, safe and trusted, accountable internet and also marks a new partnership between government and internet intermediaries in making and keeping our Interest safe and trusted for all Indians,” said Rajeev Chandrasekhar, the junior minister for electronics and information technology (Meity).
Under the amended rules, which will come into effect from October 28, one or more government panels will be formed to hear complaints from users.
The companies will be required to acknowledge complaints from users within 24 hours and resolve them within 15 days or 72 hours in case of an information takedown request.
In June, the government had issued draft changes to the IT law that would require companies to “respect the rights accorded to the citizens under the constitution of India” and proposed setting up a government panel.
Social media firms are already required to have an in-house grievance redress officer and designate executives to coordinate with law enforcement officials.
The Internet Freedom Foundation issued a statement, saying the provisions establishing the so-called grievance appellate committees are “essentially a government censorship body that would hear appeals against the decisions of social media platforms to remove content or not, thus making bureaucrats arbiters of our online free speech”.
“This will incentivise platforms to remove/suppress any speech unpalatable to the government or those exerting political pressure and increase government control and power since the government will be effectively able to also decide what content must be displayed by platforms,” it added.
“We urge for a thoughtful consideration by Meity to formulate a rights-respecting approach towards platform regulation. A step in that direction would be to withdraw IT Rules, 2021 in its entirety,” the group said.