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No proposal to appoint social media regulator: Ravi Shankar Prasad

The government on Wednesday informed Parliament that there is no proposal with the IT ministry to set up a regulator for social media.

Union IT and Communications Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, however, said that the government has released Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, under the IT Act that specifies the due diligence to be followed by all the intermediaries, including the social media intermediaries.

“The social media platforms are enjoined to develop a robust grievance redressal system. Presently, there is no proposal with the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology to appoint a regulator for social media,” Mr. Prasad informed the Lok Sabha.

The government in February had announced sweeping regulations for social media firms like Facebook and Twitter as well as OTT players such as Netflix, requiring them to remove any content flagged by authorities within 36 hours and setting up a complaint redressal mechanism with an officer being based in the country.

The guidelines also make it mandatory for platforms such as Twitter and WhatsApp to identify the originator of a message that authorities consider to be anti-national and against security and sovereignty of the country.

The new rules related to social media platforms are to be handled by the IT ministry while the Information and Broadcasting ministry will look after content related issues on entertainment apps and online news portals.

Mr. Prasad said under provision of section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, the government blocks unlawful and malicious online content including social media account, in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of the State, friendly relations with foreign states or public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognizable offence relating to above.

“Under this provision, 9,849 URLs/accounts/webpages, mostly on social media platforms, were blocked during the year 2020,” Mr. Prasad said.

In response to question whether the government has conducted any study regarding the impact of government’s control over social media vis-a-vis right to freedom of expression enshrined in the constitution, Prasad denied any such study undertaken by the government.
He said that the government welcomes criticism, dissent and also the rights of people to ask questions on social media.

“However, this needs to be acknowledged that the fundamental right of speech and expression under article 19(1) is also subject to reasonable restrictions under article 19(2) of the Constitution which can be imposed in the interest of security, safety and sovereignty of India, public order, friendly relations with foreign countries etc,” Mr. Prasad said.

The minister said it is equally important that social media should not be abused or misused to defame, promote terrorism, rampant violence and compromise the dignity of women. The Hindu

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