NEW DELHI: US President Donald Trump’s executive order diluting the immunity enjoyed by social media companies is unlikely to change India’s stand on making firms such as Twitter and Facebook more responsible and accountable for content posted on their platforms.
India has been facing a challenge of misinformation on an outsized scale and has had to affect situations like mob lynching thanks to unchecked hate speech and faux news on social media. This has made New Delhi propose key policy changes to legislations that put the onus of checking content largely on social media companies.
India and therefore the us , though, are reconsidering the immunity for various reasons, said Udbhav Tiwari, policy advisor with Mozilla.
“While India wants to compel platforms to carry out better content moderation and cooperate with law enforcement, the US seems to think that current content moderation practices are negatively impacting political neutrality and wants to rein in such practices,” Tiwari said.
Indian policymaking is unlikely to be immediately influenced since most large social media companies are based in the US and their product policies are made keeping in mind American laws, he said, although this policy change may have “far reaching ramifications globally” if it goes through.
There is also a key difference in US and Indian law on the kind of actions for which immunity is granted to social media platforms.
The US provides Good Samaritan protections under Section 230(c) of the Communications Decency Act by explicitly allowing intermediaries to restrict content on certain grounds.
On the other hand, India provides immunity to intermediaries under Section 79(2) of the IT Act, only on the condition that platforms do not modify content in any form. India does not provide any explicit Good Samaritan exceptions.
Industry experts expect Trump’s executive order to face widespread legal challenges.
The order, signed on Thursday, came after Twitter flagged Trump’s tweets with a fact check warning, alerting users to his claims about mail-in ballots.
“They’ve had unchecked power to censor, restrict, edit, shape, hide, alter virtually any quite communication between private citizens or large public audiences,” Trump said while signing the order. “There is not any precedent in American history for therefore small variety of corporations to regulate so large a sphere of human interaction.”
Twitter has been unrelenting in its approach though and called the order an attempt to unilaterally erode and threaten the future of online speech and internet freedom.
The Indian government has been within the process of finalising amendments to the IT Intermediary Guidelines, which can require platforms to verify their users so as to discourage anonymous posting and need companies like WhatsApp to trace the origin of unlawful messages on court orders, among sort of measures to pin greater responsibility on companies for the content on their platforms.
Governments across the world are battling with the common problem of how to regulate social media, said a top government official.
“This episode highlights concerns of accountability and proliferation of fake news on social media platforms. Suitable legal regimes are evolving across the world and this seems to be one approach to it,” the official said.
Although companies are encouraged to fact check posts, the question of who runs those fact checks and who the fact checkers will be answerable to will be possible issues, he added. Once platforms start modifying or filtering content, challenges around why only one kind of content is flagged will also crop up, said the official.
Prasanto K Roy, a tech policy expert said that platforms believe algorithms to moderate content, letting them screen many posts in real time, with human intervention just for escalations. It also allows a semblance of fairness and consistency, and plausible deniability.“The moment firms start blocking or restricting major handles, things can explode. Imagine the backlash in India if Twitter did to a Modi tweet what they did to Trump’s tweet?” he added. Twitter executives were summoned to the Parliamentary IT committee in February 2019 after a pro-government handle was blocked for abuse, and there was outrage when Jack Dorsey didn’t personally attend, said Roy.