Need global standard law for social media firms to curb user harm: MoS

ByDeeksha Bhardwaj, New Delhi
Nov 26, 2021 04:57 AM IST

“The government is considering a separate legislation for social media companies,” Union minister for electronics and information technology Rajeev Chandrasekhar said.

The Centre is deliberating a “global standard law” for social media companies to curtail user harm, amid allegations that tech giant Meta (earlier known as Facebook) was promoting its subsidiary Instagram to children despite potential harm, minister of state for electronics and information technology Rajeev Chandrasekhar told HT on Thursday.

Need global standard law for social media companies: MoS Rajeev Chandrasekhar amid Instagram row
Need global standard law for social media companies: MoS Rajeev Chandrasekhar amid Instagram row

“The government is considering a separate legislation for social media companies. For a country like India, where 800 million users are online, it becomes imperative to develop a safe and open cyberspace as the country moves towards a $5 trillion economy,” Chandrasekhar said.

The contours of the policy, which is still at a discussion stage, will address challenges such as cyber bullying, cyber stalking and child sexual abuse content, he said. “What is needed is a collaborative framework to ensure users are protected against harm and the culprits can be prosecuted.”

Meta has been battling one of its most serious reputational crises yet after Frances Haugen, a former company data scientist-turned-whistleblower, on last month told British lawmakers that the social media giant stokes online hate and extremism, fails to protect children from harmful content and lacks any incentive to fix the problems.

Chandrasekhar said that at present, the conduct or misconduct of platforms is addressed under the new social media and intermediary guidelines, which came into effect in February, but as the internet continues to grow, so do the legislations governing it.

“At present, the ministry’s writ to take action against the platforms only comes in after the grievance redressal mechanisms have failed. The broader issues of algorithmic biases and prejudices, user harm and misconduct are being discussed as part of a new legislation,” he said.

Chandrasekhar said that other verticals of the new legislation will cover the lacunae in the present legislations and also take into account user opinion.

“The ministry will analyse the sort of grievances received. This will not be a rushed legislation. Wide stakeholder consultations will be done and a draft will be released once the framework is formulated,” he said.

The legislation will also address questions of inclusivity and how to make the internet accessible to more people, he added.

Chandrasekhar also stressed that as all aspects of cyberspace cannot be legislated by a single country, a concerted effort will be made to increase cooperation between different countries.

According to a 1000-day vision document of the ministry, seen by HT, the government plans to undertake steps to establish an open, safe, trusted and accountable internet as it works on high-speed digital infoways and digitally skilling citizens, and formulating global standard cyber laws.

On the Personal Data Protection Bill, now called the Data Protection Bill, the Union minister said the government will carefully review the report submitted by the joint parliamentary committee once it is tabled in Parliament.

“The bill establishes that internet governance is not a binary. It’s not just about privacy but also covers ease of doing business,” Chandrasekhar said.

“As far my reading of section 35 (government exemptions) goes, it is not an absolute right. There are checks and balances,” he added.

Five opposition members of the parliamentary committee have filed dissent notes in the panel’s final report citing a failure to quantify penalties and “unbridled” exemptions for government agencies among causes of concern. The report will be tabled before Parliament in the upcoming session for discussions.

Chandrasekhar said the government needs forward-looking legislation as it gears up to take on the challenges of cyberspace. “Progress is something we cannot avoid. Laws must evolve as technology does,” he added.

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