‘All over the world, people say there has to be more accountability on social media’

Union Minister for Communications, Electronics and IT Ashwini Vaishnaw tells Liz Mathew that the government wants to build consensus when it comes to having stricter guidelines for social media.

You have said in Parliament that you were open for stricter guidelines for social media. Can you explain what you meant? Do you want more disclosures from the platforms on how they are dealing with controversial issues?

Society is evolving in terms of its engagement with social media as it plays a more and more active role. All over the world, people say there has to be more accountability on social media, mainly because our children and our family members are getting affected by it. So, do we have to have a more self regulatory regime where accountability is higher on social media? that is the question.

Our government’s view is that we must build consensus around this so that there is balance between freedom of expression and accountability on social media.

Social media companies have to come up with their own method, their own process by which content that is not to be published — content that is not good for society — is taken down by themselves. There should be more responsibility on users too. That is also to be shared.

Are you planning to formalise the review process on social media companies?

Interactions between the ministry, officials and social media platforms regularly happen, and it is a regular process. The interaction takes place at various levels , ministerial levels and so on… I do not think you can put these things in a straight jacket here. Its a structure in which people interact in a particular way. It all depends on the requirement.

Meta, in its recent Securities and Exchange Commission filing in the US has flagged that Indian privacy laws may require local content storage which will increase cost. Has the ministry had any talks about this?

Well, the data protection Bill has been deliberated by a very large section of stakeholders, and there is a joint committee of Parliament which has come up with some recommendations. We have to follow the process of consultation. Let us look at the law as it comes. Whatever decision is good for the country will be taken.

How do you address the concerns expressed about the data protection Bill in its current form? There are concerns that the Bill seeks to regulate the use of data and to foster a privacy protection framework in the country. How are you planning to address this?

With Parliament being in session, and the Bill yet to come up, I do not think its proper for me to comment on it. The committee is a statutory body that has given a proper report and I should not comment on it.

How will you ensure that the states and the Centre are working together to rein in social media companies?

In our constitutional structure, law and order is a state responsibility. So far, the state governments have taken action on the basis of inputs given to them.

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