The new millennium witnessed a transition in the form of internet culture – a new culture which has changed our way of life. Internet has become a vital part of our day-to-day existence and is being used as new ways to communicate, to make friends, to chat, to talk, to send messages, to have social networking, to exchange news and views, to play games, to connect with the government and for e-commerce. The increased use of internet led to new class of crimes known as Cyber crimes which can be described as crimes committed with the computer or through the computer in cyberspace and may include:

  • damaging the computer or the computer network
  • committing theft of computer data, computer software
  • unlawful access to computer data.
  • blackmailing
  • credit/debit card frauds
  • stock transfers, electronic fund transfers, e-commerce frauds
  • hacking by theft of information, passwords, credit card numbers from the internet,
  • giving threats, committing defamation, extortion, intimidation, etc, through e-mails
  • exposure of pornographic material
  • illegal gambling
  • pirated software
  • stolen data
  • cyber stalking
  • cyber espionage

Information Technology Act, 2000

In India, the Information Technology Act, 2000 (No. 21 of 2000) was enacted to provide legal recognition for transactions involving electronic data interchange and other forms of electronic communication, normally referred to as e-commerce, that involve the use of alternatives to paper-based methods of communication and storage of information, and to facilitate electronic filing of documents with government agencies and other entities, colloquially referred to as e-goverance. The Information Technology (Amendment) Act 55 of 2002, the Information Technology (Amendment) Act 10 of 2009, and the Finance Act, 2017 have all altered the Act (Act 7 of 2017). This Act is a comprehensive law designed to foster the appropriate use of the internet in conjunction with technology for e-governance and e-commerce. Additionally, it establishes penalties and sanctions for cyber crimes in India. Cyber Law and Cyber Crimes preservation of the confidentiality, integrity and availability of information in cyberspace is the essence of a secure cyber space.

 

It is not out of place to remark here that allowing intermediaries to interfere only on the basis of complaints by individuals about being defamed or being the target of unfair reporting will have a chilling impact on free speech. If legalised, such interference would result in the privatisation of censorship, endangering free expression. Following the 2009 revision to the IT Act, the intermediary’s position as a mere facilitator of information exchange or sales is recognised. Anyone who has been harmed by the internet publication of defamatory material may bring a takedown reference under section 79 of the Act. Section 69A empowers the Central Government to restrict access by issuing directives to any intermediary if it is satisfied that doing so is necessary for the sake of sovereignty, among other considerations. The subject is governed by the 2009 Information Technology (Procedures and Safeguards for Preventing Public Access to Information) Rules. 

Platforms for social media and the Information Technology Act

According to a press release dated 25th February 2021 from the Government of India’s Press Information Bureau regarding the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021, it was noted that the widespread use of mobile phones, the internet, and other technologies has also enabled many social media platforms to expand their footprints in India. The general public also makes extensive use of these platforms. Certain portals that provide analyses on social media platforms and have not been challenged, have given the following numbers for the user base of key social media platforms in India:

(a) WhatsApp users: 53 Crore

(b) YouTube users: 44.8 Crore

(c) Facebook users: 41 Crore

(d) Instagram users: 21 Crore

(e) Twitter users: 1.75 Crore

These social media platforms, which can also be referred to as social media intermediaries, have enabled ordinary Indians to express their creativity, ask questions, stay informed, and freely share their opinions, including criticism of the government and its officials. There are additional platforms, ranging from online news and digital media outlets to OTT platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime. OTT stands for ‘over-the-top,’ implying that the content provider is providing television and film content over the internet at the consumer’s request and according to their preferences.

The Government recognises and respects each Indian’s right to criticise and disagree as a necessary component of democracy. India is the world’s largest open Internet society, and the government encourages social media businesses to establish operations, conduct business, and earn profits in India. They will, however, be held accountable to India’s Constitution and laws. The Digital India initiative has evolved into a movement aimed at empowering ordinary Indians via the use of technology.

On the one hand, the proliferation of social media empowers citizens, but on the other, it raises some major problems and implications that have multiplied in recent years.

These issues have been expressed on occasion in a variety of settings, including the Parliament and its committees, judicial orders, and civil society discussions in various parts of the country. Similar concerns have been expressed throughout the world, and the issue has developed into a global one.

Recent  Signs of Concern

Several extremely concerning developments have been noted on social media platforms in recent times. Due to the persistent dissemination of fake news, numerous media outlets have implemented fact-checking mechanisms. The widespread use of social media to post modified photographs of women and content connected to revenge porn has frequently jeopardised women’s dignity. The misuse of social media to settle business disputes in an egregiously unethical manner has become a major source of concern for firms. Through platforms, instances of harsh language, libellous and obscene information, and flagrant contempt for religious sensitivities are increasing.

Over the years, the increasing occurrences of criminals and anti-national groups abusing social media have created new obstacles for law enforcement organisations.

These include recruiting terrorists, disseminating obscene content, sowing discord, perpetrating financial fraud, inciting violence, and disrupting public order.

It was discovered that there is currently no robust complaint procedure in place via which ordinary users of social media and OTT platforms can lodge a complaint and have it resolved within a certain time period. Due to a lack of transparency and the absence of a meaningful grievance procedure, users have been completely reliant on the whims and fancies of social media sites. Often, a user who has invested time, work, and money in building a social media profile is left with no recourse if the platform restricts or deletes the profile without providing an opportunity to be heard.

As social media intermediaries evolve, they are no longer limited to the function of pure mediator and frequently become publishers. These Rules strike an ideal balance between liberalism and a moderate self-regulatory framework. It is based on the country’s existing laws and statutes that apply to any content, whether online or offline.