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As fresh whistleblower leaks points to Facebook laxity in India, government promises action


NEW DELHI: As concerns rise over Facebook’s inability to contain hate speech and polarising content in India over lax oversight and despite repeated warnings issued by internal staff, the government said it will take action against social-media giants for lapses, even as the current IT Act – that came into force in 2001 – may soon be drafted anew to factor in societal threats, technological advancements and ensure user safety and security. “You can’t have the cyberspace as the wild west where there are no rules and no laws apply,” Junior IT minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar said while speaking at the Times Now Summit 2021. The minister said that accountability needs to be driven in the way the social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter monitor inciteful and hateful content, especially as much of it has the potential to create discord in the society. “So, it is an evolution for these intermediaries (social media platforms) to go from a belief that the cyberspace space has no jurisdiction and no laws to one where countries are cooperating in creating a set of rules.” The minister’s views come at a time when there are fresh concerns over Facebook’s inability to monitor hateful and inciteful content in India with new reports pointing out that the company’s senior global officials didn’t read much into the concerns raised by their own internal staff between 2018 and 2020. The concerns have come out through revelations made by former Facebook data scientist and whistleblower Frances Haugen in various submissions before regulators in the US. When contacted, an India spokesperson for Facebook’s parent Meta said that teams within the company have developed an “industry-leading process of reviewing and prioritizing” which countries have the highest risk of offline harm and violence every six months. “We make these determinations in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and following a review of societal harms, how much Facebook’s products impact these harms and critical events on the ground,” the Meta spokesperson said. The company claimed that it had hate speech classifiers in Hindi and Bengali from 2018. “Classifiers for violence and incitement in Hindi and Bengali first came online in early 2021.” Minister Chandrasekhar has previously said that effective checks should be maintained to guard against instances of hate crime, fake news, cyber bullying, child pornography, and also unlawful content around children and women. The updated IT Rules for social-media companies, announced in February this year, were a step in this direction, he added. He said that making rules for social media companies does not mean unfairly controlling their working. “I have made it very clear that the government has no intention in getting into anything to do with the internet and intermediaries, creative work and innovation, and investment. We have no role except to ensure that the internet always remains open, it is safe and trusted by those who use it, and in the Indian context. I can assure you that this government is committed to keeping the internet open. It is only interested in ensuring the internet remains safe, trusted and accountable to its users.” On getting a new IT law in place, he said that the current law was made in 2001, and was later amended in 2008. “It is almost 21 years old, which means for centuries in the internet age… It is absolutely clear in my mind that as a nation that is heavily invested in technology, for whom the internet is a big part of our digital economy, we will need to evolve our laws and we will need to get more modern laws.”


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