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India wants powers to veto social media moderation decisions

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On Friday, the Indian government announced an amendment to the IT law passed in 2021 that will see the formation of a committee that will have the power to overrule social media platforms’ content moderation decisions.

We obtained a copy of the amendment for you here.

In compliance with the IT rules, last year, social media companies appointed grievance officers, and their role is to hear complaints and feedback from Indian users. The new amendment that went into effect on Friday, states that any user who feels unfairly treated by a grievance officer can appeal to the Grievance Appellate Committee (GAC). The GAC will consist of a chairperson and two full-time members that will be appointed by the government.

The GAC will have the power to overrule the content moderation decisions of platforms. Users will have 30 days to file appeals, and the GAC will be required to make decisions on appeals “expeditiously,” and announce their ruling within 30 days.

The government said: “Every order passed by the Grievance Appellate Committee shall be complied with by the intermediary concerned and a report to that effect shall be uploaded on its website.”

The amendment also requires social media platforms to acknowledge complaints within 24 hours and address them in 15 days. In cases of content removal involving violation of local laws, pornography, obscenity, and patent infringement, platforms will have address the issue in 72 hours.

Trade groups representing social media companies raised concerns about the independence of the committees because they are appointed by the government.

Internet Freedom Foundation, an advocacy group based in New Delhi, expressed similar concerns, and labeled the GAC as “essentially a government censorship body” that would make “bureaucrats arbiters of our online free speech.”

“This will incentivize platforms to remove/suppress any speech unpalatable to the government or those exerting political pressure and increase government control & power since the government will be effectively able to also decide what content must be displayed by platforms,” the group added.

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