Updated: March 31, 2022 8:15:26 am
Stating that a user can initiate proceedings against a social media platform for suspending his or her account without a prior notice, the Centre on Wednesday told the Delhi High Court that a significant social media intermediary may remove only the unlawful content of the user but not take down the account itself. Only in such cases where the majority of content by a user is unlawful, the extreme step of suspending the account may be taken, the Centre said.
In response to a batch of petitions challenging the suspension of accounts by Twitter and other platforms, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology said that such platforms “discharging public functions” are duty bound to ensure that there is no infringement of such rights of citizens. The Centre in its reply equated the suspension of account without prior notice to “depriving an individual citizen” of right to freedom of expression.
“SSMIs must be held accountable for subjugating and supplanting fundamental rights like the right to freedom of speech and expression, otherwise the same would have dire consequences for any democratic nation. It is humbly submitted that liberty and freedom of any individual cannot be waylaid or jettisoned in the slipstream of social and technological advancement,” said the Centre in the reply.
Best of Express Premium
The stand taken by the government is in contrast with its stand in January 2020 in response to Senior Advocate Sanjay Hegde’s petition seeking restoration of his Twitter account. The issue prima facie is between him and Twitter, the Centre had said then while declaring itself to be “neither a necessary nor a proper party to the proceeding”. However, the IT Rules 2021, which has put additional responsibility on social media platforms, had not been notified.
The Centre Wednesday said that it is committed to upholding the rights of every citizen of the country under Article 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution of India. It said that a significant social media intermediary is expected to issue a prior notice to the user explaining the action being taken and the grounds or reasons for taking such action.
“When a SSMI platform takes such a decision to suspend the whole or part of the user account ‘on its own accord’ due to its policy violation, it should afford a reasonable opportunity to the user to defend his side, except in certain scenarios such as rape, sexually explcit material or child sexual abuse material (CSAM), bot activity or malware, terrorism related content etc,” the reply reads.
The Centre further said that in a case where the platform violates the IT Rules, 2021 by suspending the user account without issuing notice, the aggrieved user can invoke rule 7 of the IT Rules, 2021 and seek action against the platforms by initiating appropriate proceedings as per law.
It further stressed that platforms “must respect the fundamental rights of the citizens” and taking down the whole information or the user account should be a last resort. “The platform may at all times, endeavour to guard the user’s fundamental rights by following the principles of natural justice and afford reasonable time and opportunity to the user to explain its stand,” said the Centre.
🗞 Subscribe Now: Get Express Premium to access our in-depth reporting, explainers and opinions 🗞️
- The Indian Express website has been rated GREEN for its credibility and trustworthiness by Newsguard, a global service that rates news sources for their journalistic standards.