News Brief

Ahead Of Lok Sabha Polls, IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw Bats For Stronger Laws Against Social Media's Influence On Democracy

Kuldeep Negi

Jan 10, 2024, 10:16 AM | Updated 10:16 AM IST

Union Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw.
Union Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw.

Union IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw on Tuesday (9 January) flagged concerns about the impact social media can have on democratic practices and said that India's existing regulatory system partially addresses this issue, but a “much more comprehensive legal structure” was needed.

At The Indian Express Idea Exchange event on Tuesday, Vaishnaw stressed that the circumstances under which social media platforms were granted legal immunity for third-party content, known as "safe harbour" protection, have "changed". He argued for greater accountability for these platforms.

Vaishnaw's remarks are particularly relevant as India approaches its general elections in the coming months.

He pointed out that globally, democracies are concerned about social media's effect on their processes, especially with recent advancements in Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Vaishnaw noted that social media originally promised to give everyone a voice and a platform for expressing opinions, unlike traditional media which could exclude certain viewpoints. This promise implied a responsibility for publishers on social media to be aware of legal and social norms and to avoid harming others.

He observed that this responsibility has declined over time, leading to a situation where social media often serves as an unregulated space for harmful or derogatory content.

“We are also facing that challenge. We have a legal structure which addresses some of the concerns to some extent, but, definitely, we need a much stronger and much more comprehensive legal structure. There has to be some judgement on what is right and wrong. There has to be some sort of accountability, both of the platforms and users,” he said, Indian Express reported.

Vaishnaw pointed out that current social media platforms use their own content moderation policies and algorithms to determine the visibility of content.

He questioned the continued relevance of "safe harbour" in its original form.

He explained that the original concept of "safe harbour" emerged when the internet was in its infancy, transitioning from academic and research settings to the general public.

During that period, those promoting internet access aimed to limit their liability for content they didn't create.

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“Today, the context has completely changed. Which platform doesn’t moderate content today? Every platform does it. They do it according to their own wishes, it is not as per the law, but according to their own policies. The investment they make in content moderation is different in different geographies, depending on their own priorities,” he said.

He also questioned whether the use of algorithms to distribute content on social media platforms was “equitable”.

“Once you say an algorithm will decide what is going to be seen, is that equitable? It is not equitable. You are not actually seeing what you want to see, you are consuming the content which the algorithm wants you to consume. It is not a mere chance that you are getting a video which you thought you should see. It is a pure mathematical algorithm which is defining your life today,” he said.

"So, when the platform is no longer a platform in the true sense, should the safe harbour be a safe harbour in the original sense? That’s my question,” Vaishnaw added.

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Kuldeep is Senior Editor (Newsroom) at Swarajya. He tweets at @kaydnegi.

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