American psychologist Philip Zimbardo studied behavioural pattern of humans under the situation when their identity was undisclosed. The results were expectedly on the lines, with identity remaining under wraps, people were more likely to engage in gross and unruly behaviour. Something similar is witnessed on social media too. Under the veil of anonymity, several individuals cross the line. Their behaviour is undignified, unruly and at times, illegal. In the absence of public scrutiny, the worst amongst us surfaces.
To address this malice, the Government of India notified Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021. This law lays down the rules for digital media and OTT platforms. It would also entail a strong grievance redressal mechanism without compromising on the journalistic and creative freedom. The Voluntary User Verification Mechanism would be one of the several guidelines related to the social media & it would be administered by the Ministry of IT & Electronics. The Voluntary User Verification Mechanism would involve an appropriate mechanism to verify accounts of the users and give them a visible verification mark. This verification mark would be like the biometric or physical identification which is publicly visible to everyone. A Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) was formed for the social media regulation and this committee consisting of senior parliamentarians cutting across the party line, unanimously agreed that the social media platforms need to be made accountable for the content they allow to be posted/hosted on their platforms. To fulfil this purpose, the social media platforms should allow their users to officially identify themselves and go for a voluntary verification process which should be made mandatory. The JPC also expressed its displeasure because of the absence of any such code of ethics on the social media platforms.
The Ministry of IT & Electronics notified the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines & Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules on 26th February 2021. This new rule brought by the Government would require the social media giants to disclose ‘first originator’ of a post that is found offensive or objectionable. Facebook owns WhatsApp messaging App which claims end-to-end encryption. To comply with this rule WhatsApp would be required to do away with their end-to-end encryption feature.
Almost a year has passed but none of the social media giants be it Twitter or Facebook abided with the rules. This generates apprehensions regarding the commitment of these social media platforms with regards to transparency and accountability. More so, it raises concerns towards a deliberate attempt being made to undermine the law of the land. Indian democracy provides ample room for dissent. Even after a law passed by the Parliament, if it’s perceived to be arbitrary and undemocratic, one has all the rights to challenge such law in a competent court and get it scrapped. However, no such attempt has been made by any social media forum. So, to sum it up, neither do they acknowledge the law, nor do they attempt to challenge this law.
India remains a country marred down with several fault lines and these fault lines are manipulated by vested interests to unleash disruption. On innumerable occasions, attempts have been made by bots and fake accounts to spread misinformation and rumours which has resulted in law-and-order situation. Information warfare is writ large and obvious. This raises a valid question. Are the social media platforms catering to such forces which want to disrupt India? Well, their reluctance to act on the new social media law points towards the obvious. And if that’s not true then at least one of them should take the lead and abide with the laws. It would act as a precedent for the other social media platforms.
An active politician with a firm commitment to the nation, Vinit Goenka is passionate about tapping technology to change the way India works. He has proven expertise in various fields, in particular information technology, transportation & infrastructure, and agriculture. He is a Member of the Governing Council of CRIS – Centre for Railway Information System. He was appointed as a Member of the IT Task Force in the Ministry of Road, Transport & Highways and Shipping, Government of India.