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India wants social media platforms to remove content it deems ‘unlawful’

India wants social media platforms to remove content it deems ‘unlawful’


Advocates are scared the rules could stifle free speech

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The Indian government has proposed new rules aiming to stop the spread of fake news and misinformation in the country on social media — and local civil liberties groups aren’t happy. Late last month, the Internet Freedom Foundation penned a statement saying that these new rules would act as a “sledgehammer to online free speech.”

The proposed rules would amend Section 79 of India’s IT Act, the primary law in the country concerning online commerce and cybercrime. The IT Act works in a similar manner as the US’s Communications Decency Act, and the specific section that would be amended reads a lot like Section 230. If the amendments are approved, platforms like Facebook and Twitter would be required to censor content that the Indian government deems inappropriate, potentially affecting how content is served outside Indian borders. Further, the amended law would require these companies to produce user messages if the government requests the information, causing serious legal problems for end-to-end encrypted services like WhatsApp.

Platforms would also need to remind their users of their privacy policies monthly.

If the new rules are approved, platforms would have to introduce new tools to automatically flag content that the Indian government has already deemed illegal. According to Wired, this would include “hate speech against certain protected groups, defamation, child abuse, and depictions of rape.”

Child abuse and depictions of rape seem like common sense rules, but according to BuzzFeed News, some advocates fear that these new requirements could stifle free speech and help enable mass surveillance.

The addition of a decryption clause, like the one included in the Indian government’s amendments, has advocates worried that the rule could be used to peer into citizens’ communications. According to Bloomberg, the traceability clause would break end-to-end encryption and require platforms to preserve information for 180 days in case an investigation is proposed.

Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg has long said that his team is building better artificial intelligence systems in hopes of automatically flagging content that violates the platform’s rules before it’s ever posted. Still, content that violates these rules makes its way onto users’ news feeds every day. Last month, Tumblr implemented its own AI tools to remove pornography, but it has failed to flag some items appropriately. Non-erotic pieces of artwork have been flagged and some porn still makes its way onto the site.