In the last week of May, President Donald Trump announced that he wanted to make some changes on how social media is currently being regulated by their respective companies. It is said that the provision of law that prevents accountability of companies for the content posted by their users needs to be changed or removed. Recently, the President has also signed an executive order directing to the Commerce Department to appeal to the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) that they clarify the rules of the 1996 Communications Decency Act and also clarify the legal protections of the respective companies.
Objective of the order: The objective of this order is to curb hate speeches and fake news. President Trump wants the FCC to create regulations in such a way that it draws a fine line between permissible and indecorous content. According to him, such action is being taken in order to maintain proper conduct and to reduce hate across social media platforms and such a move will make American tech platforms more vulnerable to regulations in other jurisdictions.
This executive order is quite debatable and is facing a lot of controversy recently. According to Section 230, social media companies will not be made responsible for any illegal content posted by their users. They can utmost remove such post. Therefore, Trump’s new order completely nullifies this rule.
Secondly, social media is a platform where multiple people can have myriad opinions about a single subject. Sharing of opinions can create both awareness and controversy, just like any other factor that has both its own pros and cons. Trump’s order may act as a threat to the freedom of online speech that people have. Twitter has claimed this to be the president’s ‘reactionary and politicized approach’. Officials from the FCC and the Centre for Democracy and Technology have viewed this order as a violation of the constitutional law that the States have abided by for decades. This order even acts as an obstruction to the proper functioning of internet companies. Officials of FCC have stated that the government does not have the power to control these platforms like Twitter, Facebook, etc. Furthermore, they have also stated that taking up such a step would take away the complete power of the companies to regulate their own platforms, thereby not allowing them to take complete action against misinformation.
The issue creates further deep controversy because the First Amendment of the US Constitution protects the right of freedom of speech of the citizens, which the FCC had maintained all along. The order goes against the First Amendment. We all know that at the time of a revolutionary crisis, America’s freedom of speech even in social media platforms is important.
Execution of the order:
The FCC is aware of all the controversies that the order has brought on itself. FCC plans to draft the regulations in such a way that the objective of curbing hate speeches and fake news is fulfilled and there is a fine line between what is permissible and what isn’t. It is said that the completion of the drafting of the regulations that social media companies would have to abide by, would take place around November – after the presidential elections take place.
Will this order be effective in the US?
Considering all the controversial uphill it is facing, the order might not be very effective in the US. It has already faced lots of criticism and has been labeled as the president’s “political approach” to “weaken” social media companies. It will further face several challenges in the court and will raise a lot of questions because for US, this order itself is quite debatable and there are plenty of doubts of legality within it. Furthermore, with the current protests going on in the US, the citizens are already pushing on for changes to take place. In such a situation, denying the people of their freedom of speech (even if it is online), would bring on more controversy than before. It is expected that the citizens would fight for their First Amendment.
Is India planning to carry out a similar order?
India too has been planning to execute such an order to curb hate speeches and misinformation for some time long. Considering that India is the biggest democracy and the 122nd literate state in the world, some guidelines regarding these regulations is extremely important.
Reasons: Concerns of recent situations have led India to plan on taking up this move. Recently India has seen quite a number of cases where the social media platforms were misused. For example, recently TikTok was accused of exposing its users, especially teens, to pornography. Twitter was slammed for his hate speeches and WhatsApp, for failing to curb the vast number of fake messages and fake news that circulate among its users. Therefore, it is said that India needs a single government authority in order to fight social media woes. Virag Gupta, a Supreme Court lawyer has said that there is ‘ignorance among key authorities, which has created a mess when it comes to effectively handling social media platforms’.
Execution of order in India: At present, social media is governed by the Information Technology Act, under Section 79 of which, there are selective intermediate regulations for social media companies which provide conditional protection to companies for contents posted by their respective users. It is said that changes are to be brought about in this act itself and tech firms will be given more accountability for the posted content. Although an official notice hasn’t been published, it has also been noted that new provisions will also be included in the IT Intermediary Guidelines Rules where intermediaries are told to employ advanced technology in their platforms to filter unlawful content.
Will this work for India?
This is not the first time that such regulation of social media companies has been undertaken by the government. Singapore, Australia, Germany, and other European countries already have rules regarding regulations of internet companies and it has been the right approach for them. It is hoped that if India takes repercussions of this order, then it might be the right approach for us too. What might not work for the US, might work for us – and it works both ways.