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Government Issued 105 Blocking Orders to Social Media Firms Under New IT Rules

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The government has issued 105 directions to social media platforms under the new IT rules that came into effect in February last year, Parliament was informed on Friday. According to information shared by minister of state for electronics and IT Rajeev Chandrasekhar in a written reply to Rajya Sabha, the directions were issued by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting under the new rules.

The data shared by the minister shows that 94 directions to block content was issued to YouTube between December 2021 and April 2022, five to Twitter, and three each to Facebook and Instagram.

Chandrasekhar said that the government’s policies are aimed at ensuring open, safe and trusted and accountable Internet for its users.

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He said that the government has notified the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Codes) Rules, 2021 (“IT Rules, 2021”) on February 25, 2021 to make intermediaries including social media platforms accountable to their users and enhance user safety online.

“Neither the Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000 nor the above said rules contravene users’ right to privacy,” Chandrasekhar said.

The Ministry of Electronics and IT (Meity) is also said to conduct compliance audits of social media companies every quarter.

At present, social media platforms are required to disclose their compliance with IT rules 2021 every month where they disclose action taken by them in response to various grievances.

“MeitY has now put in place a mechanism to audit compliance of social media intermediaries under IT rules every quarter. As part of the audit, the ministry will verify if social media companies are reporting about grievances raised to them correctly and if their action taken is in sync with the laid out rules,” the source told PTI.

To tighten the noose on social media platforms, the government has proposed to set up an appellate panel which will have power to overrule decisions taken by social media companies with respect to any grievance. The public consultation process with respect to the proposed rule has been wrapped up by the IT ministry.


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Delhi High Court Grants Time for Government to Reveal Plans to Regulate De-Platforming of Social Media Users

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The Delhi High Court on Wednesday granted time to the Centre to inform if it was drafting any regulations to govern the issue of de-platforming of users from social media. Justice Yashwanth Varma was hearing a batch of petitions concerning the suspension and deletion of accounts of several social media users, including Twitter users.

Central government counsel Kirtiman Singh urged the court to list the cases after two weeks to enable him to come back with further instructions concerning any draft policy on the de-platforming of social media users.

Senior counsel for one of the social media platforms said that in case such guidelines are formulated, the scope of proceedings before the court can be navigated accordingly.

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The court listed the case for further hearing in September while asking the Centre to state its stand.

In its affidavit filed in one of the cases against the suspension of the petitioner’s Twitter account, the Centre has said that an individual’s liberty and freedom cannot be “waylaid or jettisoned in the slipstream of social and technological advancement” and the social media platforms must respect the fundamental rights of the citizens and conform to the Constitution of India.

It has said that social media platforms should not take down the account itself or completely suspend it in all cases and complete de-platforming is against the spirit of Articles 14, 19, and 21 of the Constitution of India.

Stating that it is the custodian of the users’ fundamental rights in cyberspace, the Centre has said that a social media account can be suspended or de-platformed only in cases such as in the interest of the sovereignty, security, and integrity of India, friendly relations with foreign States or public order or pursuant to a court order or the content is grossly unlawful such as sexual abuse material.


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Social Media Firms Introduce Few Changes Ahead of Upcoming US Midterm Elections

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Social media companies are offering few specifics as they share their plans for safeguarding the US midterm elections. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter are generally staying the course from the 2020 voting season, which was marred by conspiracies and culminated in the January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol.

Video app TikTok, which has soared in popularity since the last election cycle while also cementing its place as a problem spot for misinformation, announced Wednesday it is launching an election center that will help people find voting locations and candidate information.

The center will show up in the feeds of users who search election-related hashtags. TikTok is also partnering with voting advocacy groups to provide specialized voting information for college students, people who are deaf, military members living overseas and those with past criminal convictions.

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TikTok, like other platforms, would not provide details on the number of full-time employees or how much money it is dedicating to US midterm efforts, which aim to push accurate voting information and counter misinformation.

The company said it is working with over a dozen fact-checking organizations, including US-based PolitiFact and Lead Stories, on debunking misinformation. TikTok declined to say how many videos have been fact-checked on its site. The company will use a combination of humans and artificial intelligence to detect and remove threats against election workers as well as voting misinformation.

TikTok said it’s also also watching for influencers who break its rules by accepting money off platform to promote political issues or candidates, a problem that came to light during the 2020 election, said TikTok’s head of safety Eric Han. The company is trying to educate creators and agencies about its rules, which include bans on political advertising.

“With the work we do, there is no finish line,” Han said.

Meta, which owns Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, announced Tuesday that its approach to this election cycle is “largely consistent with the policies and safeguards” from 2020.

“As we did in 2020, we have a dedicated team in place to combat election and voter interference while also helping people get reliable information about when and how to vote,” Nick Clegg, Meta’s president of global affairs, wrote in a blog post Tuesday.

Meta declined to say how many people it has dedicated to its election team responsible for monitoring the midterms, only that it has “hundreds of people across more than 40 teams.”

As in 2020, Clegg wrote, the company will remove misinformation about election dates, voting locations, voter registration and election outcomes. For the first time, Meta said it will also show US election-related notifications in languages other than English.

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Meta also said it will reduce how often it uses labels on election-related posts directing people toward reliable information. The company said its users found the labels over-used. Some critics have also said the labels were often too generic and repetitive.

Compared with previous years, though, Meta’s public communication about its response to election misinformation has gone decidedly quiet, The Associated Press reported earlier this month.

Between 2018 and 2020, the company released more than 30 statements that laid out specifics about how it would stifle US election misinformation, prevent foreign adversaries from running ads or posts around the vote and subdue divisive hate speech. Until Tuesday’s blog post, Meta had only released a one-page document outlining plans for the fall elections, even as potential threats to the vote persist.

Twitter, meanwhile, is sticking with its own misinformation labels, though it has redesigned them since 2020 based in part on user feedback. The company activated its “civic integrity policy” last week, which means tweets containing harmful misinformation about the election are labeled with links to credible information. The tweets themselves won’t be promoted or amplified by the platform.

The company, which like TikTok does not allow political advertisements, is focusing on putting verified, reliable information before its users. That can include links to state-specific hubs for local election information as well as nonpartisan public service announcements for voters.

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TikTok Bans Paid Political Influencer Posts Ahead of Upcoming US Midterm Elections

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TikTok will work to prevent content creators from posting paid political messages on the short-form video app, as part of its preparation for the US midterm election in November, the company said on Wednesday.

Critics and lawmakers accuse TikTok and rival social media companies including Meta Platforms and Twitter of doing too little to stop political misinformation and divisive content from spreading on their apps.

While TikTok has banned paid political ads since 2019, campaign strategists have skirted the ban by paying influencers to promote political issues. The company seeks to close the loophole by hosting briefings with creators and talent agencies to remind them that posting paid political content is against TikTok’s policies, said Eric Han, TikTok’s head of US safety, during a briefing with reporters.

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He added that internal teams, including those that work on trust and safety, will monitor for signs that creators are being paid to post political content, and the company will also rely on media reports and outside partners to find violating posts.

“We saw this as an issue in 2020,” Han said. “Once we find out about it … we will remove it from our platform.”

TikTok broadcast its plan following similar updates from Meta and Twitter.

Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, said Tuesday it will restrict political advertisers from running new ads a week before the election, an action it also took in 2020.

Last week, Twitter said it planned to revive previous strategies for the midterm election, including placing labels in front of some misleading tweets and inserting reliable information into timelines to debunk false claims before they spread further online. Civil and voting rights experts said the plan was not adequate to prepare for the election.

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© Thomson Reuters 2022


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