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Government to soon announce details of grievances panels for social media users

The government said it would soon decide on the framework for the composition, functioning and other modalities of the grievance appellate committees (GAC), which would be set up to address user complaints against social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.

In the beginning, there would be one or two GACs, minister of state for electronics and information technology Rajeev Chandrasekhar told a press conference here on Saturday. More of these would be set up after assessing the nature and number of appeals from social media users, he said.

Under the amended Information Technology Rules that the government notified on Friday, these appellate committees must be set up within 90 days.

“We believe the GAC is an important institution. We will come back and present the structure, the organisation and the workings of the GAC very shortly,” the minister said.

The establishment of the GAC is a disincentive for social media intermediaries of all kinds and a push for them to discontinue their “casual” approach towards user grievances, Chandrasekhar said.

The amended rules also expand the due diligence requirements on social media platforms, especially on misinformation.

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“Earlier there was only an obligation of notification on the intermediary. Now there is a much more definite obligation on the intermediary in terms of making efforts that no unlawful content is posted on the platform,” the minister said.

They would now be required to make reasonable efforts to prevent dissemination of misinformation, unlawful content, pornography, threats to national security, and any deliberate misinformation.

“It (misinformation) ranges from advertising about products and services that are illegal, that ranges from porn to online betting, misrepresenting fintech products and false information about a particular person,” Chandrasekhar said.

Though the government has agreed to a 72-hour timeline for removal of content which is flagged by users and is illegal or unlawful, it would likely revise this to a shorter timeline in future, he said.

Despite the government going ahead with its plan to establish one or more GACs, the option of social media user grievances being appealed before and heard by an industry-led self-regulatory organisation is still open, the minister said.

Such a panel, however, cannot be a “cosy club of industry people”, he said, reiterating his earlier stand that executives from Internet companies could not be allowed to be a part of any appellate body to hear user grievances against the intermediaries.

“It is not an area that the government is very keen to get into. We are doing this (formation of GAC) very reluctantly and because we have an obligation and duty to the digital citizens that their grievances should be heard by someone,” he said.

The changes to the IT Rules of 2021 notified on Friday paved the way for the establishment of one or more GACs within 90 days. The idea behind setting up of the committees is to give users of social media platforms a recourse to settle complaints, other than approaching the courts that can be a time-taking process.

As per Friday’s notification, GACs shall consist of one chairperson and two wholetime members appointed by the government. Of these, one member shall be ex-officio, while the other two shall be independent members.

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