India is considering a panel to rule on social media takedowns

Digital rights activists warn the move will increase direct gov’t control over social media platforms in India.

The Twitter and Facebook logo along with binary cyber codes are seen in this illustration
India ranks among the largest sources worldwide of government requests for content takedowns to Twitter and Meta platforms [File: Dado Ruvic/Illustration/Reuters]

India is considering whether to set up an appeals panel with the power to reverse the content moderation decisions of social media firms, the information technology ministry said, in what would be the first such move of its kind worldwide.

The revelation came in a document seeking comments on plans for changes to IT rules that took effect last year and aim to regulate social media content, making platforms such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter more accountable.

The document, made public on Thursday, proposed one or more such appeal panels. It set a deadline of 30 days for appeals against decisions by company grievance officers, while the panels themselves get a further 30 days to take up the matter.

Social media firms are already required to have an in-house grievance redressal officer and designate executives to coordinate with law enforcement officials.

“The intermediary shall respect the rights accorded to citizens under the constitution,” the draft rules say in a newly-added section, referring to social media companies.

Apar Gupta, executive director of the Internet Freedom Foundation, a nonprofit that advocates for digital rights, tweeted that should the move go through, it will “increase” direct government control over social media platforms.

“Censorship and hate speech will balloon at the same time,” he warned.

India ranks among the largest sources worldwide of government requests for content takedowns to Twitter Inc and Meta Platforms Inc.

Tension has flared between India’s nationalist government and Twitter, which declined last year to comply fully with orders to take down accounts and posts accused of spreading misinformation about farmers’ protests against the government.

Last year, government officials said social media platforms may no longer be eligible to seek liability exemptions as intermediaries or hosts of user content if they failed to follow domestic information and technology laws.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies