Experts call for a progressive tech policy regime that preserves freedom of speech on the internet

Today, The Dialogue, a New Delhi based independent think-tank, held a stakeholder consultation on platform accountability, in light of the Intermediary Liability .

Guidelines that are to be notified by the Government on the 15th of January. The event was attended by a variety of stakeholders from the industry, academia and the Government. Dr. Narendra Jadhav, MP Rajya Sabha, was also present at the event and appreciated the efforts of the stakeholders on driving discourses that focus on progressive tech policy regime.

The Ministry for Information Technology is expected to notify the Draft Intermediary Guidelines by 15th January, 2020. These guidelines lay down the liability of intermediaries with respect to the content that is hosted by them and lay down methods by which content hosted on platform can be moderated. When the draft guidelines were announced on 24th December 2018, one of the key objectives defined by the government stood around the need to curb fake news and hate speech in India. While hate speech on social media is a challenge, the guidelines are a little misguided in their approach. At the event, various intermediaries discussed what they themselves can do to prevent instances of fake news and hate speech on their platforms.

The participants at the event acknowledged that though at present there are legislations in place that deal with such issues, the responsibility of making social media a more constructive ecosystem also lies with the platform themselves and the users. A host of solutions were discussed, the most common one being the need to strengthen community guidelines and to create awareness among all parties involved. It was noted that though community guidelines at present are drafted at a global scale, there is a need to tailor these guidelines to take into account cultural sensitivities that vary from region to region. Another issue discussed was the inability of AI to detect and understand such cultural and lingual biases.

As for the draft guidelines, there was common consensus that aspects such as traceability, automatic takedown of content, filtering and monitoring will have a chilling effect on free speech on the internet.

 The need of judicial oversight and its feasibility were also debated, along with issues such as the irregularity in the manner of moderation and the lack of redressal for those affected.

In terms of a solution, most parties agreed that responsibility of awareness lay on both the Government and the stakeholders who possess technical capacity. The concept of a “behavioural nudge” or the flagging of content that seems to be propagating misinformation or hatred was welcomed by many. All parties present agreed that each individual involved in the process, from the user to the Government and/or political parties must acknowledge their responsibility in the matter, as regulation of hate speech and fake news is as much a societal issue as a technical one.

Speaking on the topic, Mr. Kazim Rizvi, Founder, The Dialogue said “For India to achieve its Constitutional and economic objectives, freedom of expression on the internet must be preserved. As the Prime Minister has rightly identified that we need to balance security and privacy of users, it is imperative that our laws do not infringe upon our rights while at the same time ensuring that we create the right conducive economic environment to achieve the goal of a 5 Trillion Dollar economy.”

Other issues that came up during the discussion were the lack of a surveillance law in India, and how there is a strong need for accountability of the Government in such instances.

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