Currently, social media platforms — including Facebook and Twitter — employ their own guidelines to moderate content in India, and follow the global standards set out by their parent companies.
“Who has given them the power to decide what is hate speech or not? This can’t be arbitrary. One the one hand, they enjoy safe harbour, and on the other hand, they censor (content),” an official told ET.
‘Lack of Transparency’
India is concerned about the lack of transparency around the moderation practices followed by social media platforms, the official said. This is stoking debate over whether internet giants such as Facebook, Google or Twitter should be allowed the power to self-censor, or moderate, user-generated content on their platforms.
“There is a need for standard rules for everyone,” said another official.
Pointing to Facebook’s community guidelines that are global in nature, the senior official said the social media giant also has India-specific rules on what it terms “coordinated inauthentic behaviour”, or spam.
Under these rules, Facebook had removed posts associated with both the BJP and Congress in April 2019. The official termed these guidelines as “vague”.
“Whether something comes under hate speech has to be defined by a consistent policy and has to have neutrality of ideology,” the official said.
Referring to another incident, where Twitter — in its curated news feed section — termed the proposed Ram Mandir in Ayodhya as “controversial” on the day of bhumi pujan by the Prime Minister, the official said the post was removed after the ministry of electronics & IT contacted Twitter.
“Who is Twitter to add the adjective ‘controversial’ to mandir? How can they do editorial modification when they are just an intermediary? They are not supposed to have an editorial line, unlike newspapers, which are governed by laws,” the official said.
Facebook and Twitter declined to comment on these developments.
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal alleged that Facebook had shown favouritism to the ruling BJP by not acting on hate speech posts by its leaders. Similarly, last year, a controversy erupted when Anurag Thakur, the then chairperson of the parliamentary panel on IT, summoned Twitter and Facebook over allegations that the platforms were trying to curb free speech of individuals subscribing to non-Left ideology.
As a political slugfest continues over the WSJ article, BJP’s IT cell chief Amit Malviya told ET last week that in the run-up to the 2019 general elections, Facebook had unilaterally struck off over 700 pages without assigning “any reason”.
“This debate around hate speech is skewed because what constitutes hate speech or otherwise will be determined by India’s rules and regulations and constitutional frameworks, not by community standards of a particular social media platform. It also needs to apply uniformly,” Malviya had said.
Earlier this year, US President Donald Trump signed an executive order diluting the immunity enjoyed by social media companies after Twitter started flagging his tweets with a fact check warning.
However, Indian officials said they are aware that taking away content moderation powers from social media companies will not be easy as these platforms also remove content pertaining to pornography and terrorism, which can create havoc if left unattended. “The platforms will then not do their due diligence when it comes to such content and that will be a problem. Also, it will become a challenge to regulate venomous content from across the borders. So, this is a complicated issue,” an official said.
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