Is the government of India going to become a “troll monitor”?

When asked this question in the context of social media at a media summit on 17 March, Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Smriti Irani said:

“Instead of saying that you are a troll monitor, one can say that agencies that want to be a part of news, and factually want to give, let’s say, not only because news today is also very invested in views, it is not devoid of views – and that is a very fine line that certain journalists or media persons tend to cross. So it is now incumbent upon the consumer to have knowledge of what is pure information or what comes over as opinion, and that is, like I said, something that the ministry is considering in terms of putting it in those words which now reflect on broadcasting and advertorials – having a similar line of ethics and a code of conduct in a free society that is incumbent upon the agencies to abide to [sic].”

For those concerned with the regulation of content on social media, that word-salad of an answer is unlikely to inspire much confidence in the government’s approach to regulation.

In the context of content regulation in the media, the Press Council of India and the News Broadcasters Association are not very encouraging—they’re hardly the models of good and effective self-regulation in the context of newspapers and television, respectively. At the same time, content regulation specific to the internet in any way has been a disaster in India. We’ve witnessed the chaos and trouble caused by Section 66-A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 until it was struck down by the Supreme Court as being unconstitutional. What is definitely not needed is a toothless body with little power trying to tame media outlets on social media. And we certainly don’t need another law trying to define what is and what isn’t acceptable speech on social media.

Between the two extremes though, perhaps, there’s a third alternative.

From network effect to network enforcement

As 2018 rolled in, the Federal Republic of Germany brought into effect one of the most hotly debated and paradigm shifting laws on the governance of the internet: the Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz, or the “Network Enforcement Act” as it is known in English.

What does it do? It makes social networks with at least two million users or more in Germany responsible for taking down illegal content posted on them by users, and for putting in place a mechanism where illegal content can be reported and acted upon. Failure to put in place such a mechanism and meet the reporting obligations under the law (for complaints received and action taken) could result in fines from anywhere between 500,000 to 50 million euros.

AUTHOR

Alok Prasanna Kumar

Alok is an advocate currently based in Bengaluru. He has previously worked as lawyer in the Supreme Court, from the chambers of Mohan Parasaran. He has also been a Senior Resident Fellow at the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy and assisted the Law Commission of India in preparing its 253rd Report.

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