Facebook and Twitter logos are seen on a shop window in Malaga, Spain.(REUTERS)
Facebook and Twitter logos are seen on a shop window in Malaga, Spain.(REUTERS)

Classify social media as news media, subject them to journalistic standards, says SC judge

Justice Bhat even questioned the neutrality maintained by such platforms in claiming no responsibility for content shared by users on these platforms.
Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By Abraham Thomas
UPDATED ON DEC 13, 2020 05:50 AM IST

To curb dissemination of fake news and bots in the digital age, there is a need to classify social media platforms as news media and subject them to the same journalistic standards, Supreme Court judge S Ravindra Bhat said on Saturday.

Justice Bhat even questioned the neutrality maintained by such platforms in claiming no responsibility for content shared by users on these platforms.

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“In reality, as systems that mediate between users, social media platforms can never be neutral. Algorithms shape how people communicate and what information is presented to what participants in what manner and at what time,” he said.

Justice Bhat was delivering the sixth justice VR Krishna Iyer memorial lecture on the topic Rule of Law in the Digital Age – A Constitutional Framework organized by the Sarada Krishna Sadgamaya Foundation for Law and Justice.

Expanding his thoughts on the broad spectrum of digital platform and the need for digital constitutional governance, justice Bhat rued the fact that as more digital information was getting transacted, the dependence for news on social media platforms has increased.

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“People source news from social media. By itself, it is not bad. But news disseminated (on these platforms) is not factual…..Fake news and planting bots have triggered riots that leads to public mischief.”

In the US, almost 50% of the population sources news from social media. In India too, the social media is getting significantly relevant. “Minimally a consensus is emerging that these social media platforms be re-classified as news media and held to the same journalistic standards of truth while publicly disclosing their advertisers, political funders and conflicts of interest.”

The judge remarked that these “data-fuelled giants” have business models that rely on selling their users’ personal information to advertisers. A move to identify the advertisers behind the social media has been initiated recently by Australia.

The judge also spoke on another area of concern in the digital sector with growing decentralization of government services to private players. With the growth of e-commerce market spaces, payment interfaces, and online apps, consumers are subjected to terms and conditions with no judicial oversight.

“This assertion that digital platforms are fully private spaces needs to be questioned in the present context where they play a significant role in governing everyday life and take over the provision of services and sectors that have been serviced by the government and now are the only players for long years,” justice Bhat said. On these platforms, there is no protection for users from unilateral changes in rules, inadequate privacy safeguards, and lack of appeal against grievance redressal.

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