Time to rethink the Big Tech’s immunity

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- Regulation of social media and related issues

The article discusses the need for regulation of social media and counters against placing social media on a higher pedestal for the application of reasonable restrictions. 

Social media and its regulation

  • Social media is a commercial product that connects people all over the globe.
  • It allows people to converse with each other through profiles both known and anonymous.
  • The object is purely commercial, that is to make money.
  • The fact that a commercial product could be used for a social purpose does not make the product a social good.
  • The new Information Technology Rules, 2021 formulated by the Government of India attempts to bring in a minimum regulatory standard to social media.
  • The present amendment to the rules is to formulate a broad and soft-touch regulation mechanism for use of the product, just like one would for a good like a car or a service like chartered accountancy.

Issues with regulation of social media

1) Immunity from content posted on platforms

  •  Social media companies enjoy an immunity — they are not considered responsible for the contents posted on them.
  • The immunity is granted on the ground that social media is merely a platform or a sort of a glorified postbox.
  • It is incorporated under the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines) Rules, 2011 framed under Section 79 of the Information Technology Act.
  • This protection is itself unique as it is not extended to newspapers, magazines or even websites.
  • This protection is given by the government as an exceptional measure.
  • The present amendment to rules only tries to update and make these rules workable considering the latest global developments.

2) Constitution allows for restriction of freedom of speech

  • The Constitution itself gives us a restricted right to freedom of speech under Article 19(1)(a) and 19(2).
  • The argument that social media is entitled to some form of higher protection because it exists on the internet is an untenable argument.
  • The Constitution doesn’t recognise a hierarchy of rights depending on the medium through which the freedom of speech is exercised.

3) Important for political and commercial speech

  • Social media has become so crucial to commercial and political speech in this country, there is an urgent need to regulate it.
  • It has effectively become a public square in which the most important conversations on politics and society are discussed.
  • The function of social media is clearly a public function at the lowest and as a public utility at the high end, and, therefore, automatically subject to regulation and the writ jurisdiction of the courts.

Conclusion

For all its significance and importance, social media needs to be regulated. However, the regulations should not hamper the freedom of expression and free speech.

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