Accountability, responsibility though both look like similar terms, they differ from each other in small terms. Accountability is something that cannot be shared and specific to a particular source or individual based on its skill, role, etc. But in a huge platform where there are numerous users of such platforms, a violation of any law or rule using such social media platform will either make the social media solely accountable or both the user and the media platform responsible. This article deals with the various questions relating to the accountability of social media for errors made by the user, the responsibility of social media in upholding the nation, and a famous step planned to be implemented by social media platforms to avoid the spread of illegal content of data, etc,
Social media is a platform that brings the whole world into the hands of any individual or a platform which carries the news of a person to the whole world in seconds. These are present trending modes of communication systems which wholly depends on the internet (telecom industries). This media is present in all areas of the world and has no boundaries for its communication. Some of the famous social media platforms are Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, YouTube, etc,.
The past world witnessed only communication that has some boundary, but the evolution of the internet made a breakthrough in communicating information from one place to another. Now when the same is viewed technically a fact which is known but unnoticed by all users is that the messages, posts, videos that people upload or forward get recorded in some server. The relevant questions which need to be addressed are:
- Is there any violation of privacy?
- If any individual or a group gets affected due to the content that is shared via the internet, then what is the role of social media platforms in rectifying such errors?
Thus, the main question is whether the social media platforms, accessed by all is responsible for the acts of their users or not.
The Nation and Social Media Platforms
Every nation strives hard and continues to perform its best in bringing up the economy and the livelihood of its citizen. For such activities, it introduces various schemes, laws, etc., but nothing is impossible when there is no cooperation from the people (the acquirer of all the benefits). India is a nation that has all standards of people. Thus, making them aware of the schemes given by the government and laws to be practiced is a must. For the sake of such awareness, a government cannot go house to house and create awareness. In such a situation the role of social media stands must in communication and creating awareness. Similarly, viewed from the opposite side, any new product when introduced requires some suggestions from the customer in the market; similarly, any new law requires some feedback for its effective life.
In such a way media stands in updating and making the makers of the law notice the prevailing situations among the people, updates the representatives of the people about their view for regretting such laws. In the process of electroplating, a special substance known as the catalyst is added so that the process gets speeded up but the catalyst does not affect the final result. Similarly, media takes the role of catalyst, as with the report given by it, the government speeds up the process of implementing and other processes.
Therefore, social media interlinks people and the government and creates a bridge for interaction. From here we can conclude that social media never stands for the government or the people, but it holds its position in such a place that develops the nation. However, such bridges also need some laws to be followed for its proper regulation.
Social Media Laws in India
There are no express laws commonly governing all social media platforms but all these social media platforms fall under the category of technology and are governed by the Information Technology Act, 2000. The amendment of the above-mentioned Act deals with various instructions to be followed by the media when dealing with the sharing of data.
Under Section 2(1)(w) a specific term known as the “intermediary” is defined as any person who on behalf of another person receives, stores or transmits any electronic record or does any service in performing such activity. Social media is termed as a platform because it engages in providing services to the users in performing the above-mentioned activity.
Section 79(2) of the same Act deals with “exceptional cases” for which the service providers shall not be liable for the acts of the users that are if the service providers are not involved in any of the actions that initiates or modifies the content that is published or if the information is published even after following the guidelines of the Central Government. Along with this sub-clause 3 makes a proviso that if the intermediaries fail to evict any information in the platform which provokes unlawful acts even after the suggestion of the respective government, such platform may be held liable.
Apart from this, the above-mentioned Act also bans recording and publishing other immoral activities that affect the personal rights or feelings of others and provides punishments if continued. If any person who publishes any false information, knowing it to be untrue then such acts are also governed by the IT Act and the IPC if the material so published is defamatory.
The above-mentioned provisions and punishments can only be exercised after the act, but the impact of such action is faced by the victim immediately. Though there may be provisions for controlling the acts of the social media platforms which will help in sustaining the bridge, the absence of separate Acts leads to inconvenience.
The common threat for social media platforms is the publishing and sharing of fake news. Any photo or video uploaded can be identified, but what if the same is circulated. Finding one among 1000 seems to be difficult but not impossible. Justice delayed is justice denied; finding that one source of false information after a certain period may lead to a hectic situation. Thus, the social media platforms all together took a step in controlling such activities with the help of the Aadhar Card.
Role of Aadhar in Social Media Accountability
The world gets updated itself every minute. Parallel to the world, the laws must also be revised periodically to face the crimes that arise due to the advancement of technology. Similarly, the social media platforms were guided by Intermediaries Guidelines Rules which comes under the IT Act 2011. As recent times have faced many changes and technological improvements, social media also took its step in preventing any unfair activities. Though the government drafted an update in the above-mentioned guidelines the social media in order to give efficient results suggested the inclusion of Aadhar number for all social media accounts. After all tries in the lower courts, social media platfroms approached the Supreme Court for enhancing the above-stated act.
In the case of Facebook Inc. v. Union of India held on 24 September 2019 various stands were taken by the petitioner (Facebook) to express the linking of Aadhar as a valid suggestion. Few of the contentions are:
- Social media is a platform that circulates various information and other digital. Among such content, there may be some viral issues and fake news also. In order to identify the origin of such data, the platform suggested linking the Aadhar with social media account so that the source can be tracked easily.
- Other means of tracking seems difficult because all platforms provide end-to-end data encryption. The reverse process of encryption is possible but such actions may violate the right to privacy and proper court approval is a must to continue the act.
- The possibility of analysing the wrong person may lead to a violation of the fundamental rights. With millions of active users, finding data and de-encryption of the user’s platform is almost impossible.
The government on the opposing side stated its opinion and suggested that the act of linking Aadhar is not feasible. The Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad confirmed in a Written Reply to the question raised in Lok Sabha relating to the above matter. The view of the government was that the Aadhar card contains an individual’s details provided at the time of registration or updating. Along with such information, secured identification details such as fingerprints and an iris scan is also included. Such an idea of linking with social media account may at any time bring the individual and the nation into risk. Thus such a suggestion may involve social media with more liability.
WhatsApp, the most prevalent and trending application which holds a leading position in spreading the news is also a popular source of fake news. WhatsApp has improved its services to the public and the government by enabling certain facilities. It is updated in such a way that any message that is to be forwarded in the present times has a special remark which alerts the receiver about the fact that it is a forwarded message. Any fake news that originates in a group must be controlled by the group admin so that such news may not reach its destiny, etc.
From the above discussion, we can conclude that any action performed makes the originator, performer, and the supporter liable. In the field of social media, being a platform for more than a million users, it is the responsibility of the service provider to keep track of all data that are passed using their service. At the same time, they should be cautious in safeguarding such details and protecting the right to privacy of all its users, as guaranteed by the Indian Constitution. Apart from the accountability of the service providers the citizens also have equal responsibility in spreading information that nowhere affects any individual. Thus, accountability of social media lies parallel with the responsibility of the users.
- Framework & Guidelines for Use of Social Media for Government Organizations – Department of Electronics and Information Technology Ministry of Communications & Information Technology Government of India. https://www.meity.gov.in/writereaddata/files/Approved%20Social%20Media%20Framework%20and%20Guidelines%20_2_.pdf
- Right To Information Act, 2005 A Guide for Media – http://keralamediaacademy.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/RTI-Guide-for-Media.pdf
- The Economic Times – Give status of social media accountability norms: Supreme Court updated on Sep 14, 2019, 08:13 AM IST written by: Anumeha Chaturvedi & Megha Mandavia https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/give-status-of-social-media-accountability-norms-supreme-court/articleshow/71121103.cms?from=mdr
- The Economic Times – Updated on Nov 20, 2019, 06:00 PM IST https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/no-proposal-to-link-social-media-accounts-of-individuals-to-aadhaar-ravi-shankar-prasad/articleshow/72144591.cms