Government vs Big Tech MNCs
● The questioning of social media companies about objectionable content on their platforms is a gathering storm. There is a debate going on whether platforms can take down content on their own should they find it objectionable.
● Since the platform acts as voice of millions, it ends up being a guardian of speech, should it deem something objectionable. The greater question is should these companies have power to decide what is objectionable and what is not.
The self-regulating power of social media platforms has emerged as various extra-constitutional regulations for free speech. Critically Examine.
● When the government or courts order takedown of content, the aggrieved citizen can invoke their fundamental rights and approach the court to protect their freedom of speech.
● This has sparked a debate on whether platforms themselves should block or remove content or users, or not.
Social media as a self-regulating authority:
● As a corporate policy, platforms would want to demonstrate that their platforms are safe and happy places and allow only good conduct on their platform.
● Advertisers are increasingly becoming conscious of the reputation and ways of working on platforms. This drives platforms to moderate their content, lest they alienate advertisers who seek to avoid association with illegal or undesirable content.
● Social media platforms provide people to exercise their right of speech and expression even in authoritarian regimes. Governments may influence or set their own popular narrative if they are allowed to regulate.
● Democratically elected governments are far from perfect; in fact, according to The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index, both India (ranked 53rd ) and the US (ranked 25th) are “flawed democracies”.
● The argument for Big Tech to be the upholder of the public interest could rest on the theory that well-functioning markets are superior to flawed democracies in optimising social welfare.
The issue with social media as regulating authority:
● Many social media companies have been utterly inconsistent in governing what speech is allowed and what ought to be blocked.
● People or regulators believe there is unfair enforcement of the platforms' policies.
● These platforms also have the power to silence opinions by playing the role of censor and publisher. But this power is firmly in the hands of Big Tech barons with no corresponding accountability and compliance requirements.
● States are the guardians of the public interest. In democratic societies, governments are elected to represent the will of the people. So, the Government is the sole authority to decide what can be curtailed or permitted.
● It is the big tech platforms themselves who have become the governments, the police and the courts. They make their own rules about what people are allowed to say.
● Big tech firms' concern is maximising profit, not making sure that the internet serves as a place for healthy, well-informed, democratic debate. So when a private company gets to decide what is acceptable and what is not acceptable online, that can cause tensions for a democratic society, and people may be left wondering why Facebook or Twitter accept some things said by others while it has censored them.
● It is never in the commercial interest of Big Tech to remove offensive speech as this content goes viral more readily, bringing in more eyeballs, more data and more advertising revenue.
● We need to evaluate how to enable the right to free speech on social media platforms as per Article 19 in the Constitution of India. The takedown policies, community standards or algorithms of all platforms must be compliant with and not go beyond Article 19(2) exceptions.
● Social media platforms’ broader tendency to promote and amplify conspiracy theories, fringe groups, and other problematic content must also be addressed.
● Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 focuses more on in-house and self-regulation mechanisms whereby a robust grievance redressal mechanism has been provided while upholding journalistic and creative freedom.