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Union govt refutes allegations of Kapil Sibal that amendments to IT Rules make social media unsafe, says no provision for prosecution added as claimed

Kapil Sibal, who as the IT minister had brought the draconian section 66A in the IT Act, is now talking about freedom of speech on social media.

After Congress leader Kapil Sibal claimed that the amendment made to the IT Rules makes the law safe for the government and unsafe for the citizens, the government denied the claims, saying that no new provision for prosecution has been made in the amendment. PIB Fact Check tweeted that the claim is misleading.

Earlier in the day, Kapil Sibal had issued a statement saying that under the amendment made to the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, people will be prosecuted for making defamatory statements. He had claimed that social media is the only platform left for ordinary citizens, but now they will be prosecuted for using it.

Kapil Sibal also claimed that the BJP government has already captured TV networks, and now they are going to capture social media. “It’s the comprehensive capture of media. We’re moving towards one code of conduct, one political party, one system of governance & no answerability to anyone,” he said, according to ANI.

Hours after Sibal’s statements were reported, PIB Fact Check tweeted saying that the claim is misleading, and the amended IT Rules have not added any new provision for prosecution.

It is notable that India already has provisions for initiating civil and criminal proceedings against defamation, and no other provisions for the same were added in the amendment to the IT Rules.

The new amendment actually has provisions empowering social media users to raise grievances against actions of social media companies like arbitrary blocking, suspension etc, and also to get harmful or derogatory content removed. The amendment has no provision that allows the govt to prosecute social media users for defamatory messages.

Talking about the amendment, Union Minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar said that this is next step to realizing the government’s duty to Digital Nagriks of Open, Safe and Trusted, Accountable Internet. “Also marks a new partnership btwn Govt and Intermediaries in making n keeping our Internet safe & trusted for all Indians,” he had tweeted.

The minister said that the amendment of IT rules will put more definite due diligence obligations on social media companies to make efforts to ensure that no unlawful content or misinformation is posted on their platforms. He said that the formation of Grievance Appellate Committees under the amendment is necessary as the government is aware of lakhs of messages from citizens where grievances were not responded to by social media firms despite complaints.

“The obligations of intermediaries earlier was limited to notifying users of rules but now there will be much more definite obligations on platforms. Intermediaries have to make efforts that no unlawful content is posted on the platform,” Rajeev Chandrasekhar said.

The amendment makes a provision for the central government to form Grievance Appellate Committees to address the concerns of social media users. The committees will have the power to issue directions to social media companies to remove content.

With the new amendments, any person aggrieved by a decision of the Grievance Officer related to blocks, suspensions, etc. by social media platforms may prefer to file an appeal with the Grievance Appellate Committee within a period of thirty days from the date of receipt of communication from the Grievance Officer.

The government’s amendments stemmed from users’ complaints about being de-platformed or being removed from a social media site, without social media companies like Twitter, Facebook etc giving them an adequate avenue of hearing or a satisfactory explanation.

The amendments mandate social media companies to acknowledge user complaints within twenty-four hours and resolve such them within a period of fifteen days from the date of their receipt. If users deem social media intermediaries’ actions unsatisfactory, they can approach the Grievance Appellate Committees for redressal.

It is notable that Kapil Sibal, who as the IT minister had brought the draconian section 66A in the IT Act, is now talking about freedom of speech on social media. Before this section was struck down by the Supreme Court, ordinary people were arrested by police for their messages on social media platforms if anyone complained against them.

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OpIndia Staff
OpIndia Staff
Staff reporter at OpIndia

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