social media platforms

Why it’s time to regulate social media platforms now?

by | May 28, 2021 | Analysis, Viewpoint

It’s been fashionable to criticize governments, but the fact is that today’s social media platforms wield much power and shoulder little responsibility.
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In the last two decades, social media platforms have gotten too big  and powerful but have mostly shrugged responsibility. Moreover, the big ones are literally without competition in their respective markets. There is no close direct competitor to a Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, et al.

In this sense, social media platforms have become analogous to governments that are either free of any opposition or have a very weak opposition to contend with. Isn’t that what we call nonconductive to democracy?

Indeed. Be it Facebook, WhatsApp, or Google, they keep changing privacy policies. Sometimes these changes are to meet the regulatory requirements of the markets they operate in but often these changes are also at their wills (I chose not to use whims here) and fancies. Mostly, these changes are to suit their commercial interests, period.

Arm-twisting users to accept new privacy rules

Take the most recent and glaring instance of WhatsApp, for example. In early 2021, the Facebook-owned social messaging behemoth decided to issue a new privacy-policy diktat to its more than 500 million users in India to take it (the new privacy policy) or leave it (use of the WhatsApp app). After the government didn’t approve of its new privacy policy, WhatsApp did a climbdown from its earlier stand. It has postponed the exit of those users who have not accepted its policy for now.

WhatsApp argues against the government’s new guidelines (see article) on the pretext of servicing the ‘privacy interest’ of its users. At the same time, it tries forcing a privacy policy on users that they don’t approve of, by making a blatant misuse of its dominant position in the social messaging market segment. (It may be noted that Telegram is a distant second to WhatsApp globally as well as in India).

See also: Ironic that WhatsApp breaches privacy but wants govt to practice it.

Sumant ParimalSumant Parimal, Chief Analyst at 5Jewels Research and a keen IT industry observer agrees, “When they (social media companies) want, they impose any kind of term and conditions on users while even compromising privacy of users, but when Indian government asks for something then they are citing privacy as reason for not complying.”

So, what recourse do users have against such misuse of power by these platforms? There is no social-media appellate who could step in to safeguard the democratic interests of netizens. They are left with no other choice but to approach real-world courts and governments, who sometimes do step in and intervene.

Has regulation become a need of the changed times?

There is a thin line between democracy and anarchy, just as there is a thin line between freedom of speech and indecency of speech.

Social media is a platform that espouses the tenets of democracy and freedom of speech but where these cherished values can easily be sucked by dungeons of anarchy and indecent speech.

Worse, social media–and more so the social messaging platforms—can be misused by criminals and terrorists for perpetuating their respective agendas. Tech media is often replete with news of various cybercrimes ranging from digital frauds and cyber stalking to ransomware attacks.

Is government-led regulation of social media platforms needed?

Let’s be fair—the average internet user faces a perennial dilemma whenever the topic crops up. Netizens tend to see government interventions as a double-edged sword, which can cut both ways. There have been numerous instances in the past when netizens have opposed steps taken by governments to regulate the internet.

There are obvious reasons for users to be distrustful of both the government and the internet companies when it comes to protecting their freedom of speech and expression, particularly on social media platforms.

While the average utopian users will quite likely be fine with an intervention that rids social media platforms of obscenity, violence, and disharmonies of all kinds, they may not like any intrusive policing and patrolling of their social walls and communities.

Alas, internet is no longer the global village it was conceived to be!

Nevertheless, with the right regulatory mechanisms in place, it can be made a lot better than what it is today.

Verified accounts are a good way to autoregulate

Anshuman TiwariAnshuman Tiwari, a well-known process transformation professional, podcaster, and YouTuber has summed it up aptly, “So there is this chaos around the banning of some social media services in India. While we can debate the interest and logic in doing this, there is a huge opportunity to sort this mess. All social media should be ‘verified.’ Verified accounts will behave better. And the trolls will be careful. Essentially, what you can’t say in real life and get away with should also be not said online.”

A lot of people will lose a lot of ‘followers’ though, he quips.

A good thing is that amidst all the recent social-media din and commotion in the wake of the Intermediary Guidelines issued earlier by Ministry of Electronics and IT (MEITY), there has been some positive development on the front. Most significantly, Twitter has recently said it will enable a system for users to verify their Twitter accounts. It noted on its official website, “Starting May 20, 2021, we’ll begin rolling out verification applications to everyone. If you don’t see it in your Account Settings tab right away, don’t worry! Everyone should be able to apply soon.”

It is a well-known fact that getting an account ‘verified’ on Twitter has historically been one of the most arduous and hard-to-achieve tasks for a common Twitterati.

Multi-stakeholder regulation can infuse trust

When it comes to the wider impact of social media, there are multiple stakeholders at play. These include the general users, the government, the opposition, public figures, businesses, academia, judiciary, and the social media platforms themselves, among others.

So, a panel that comprises representations from several of these stakeholder groups should ideally be allowed to monitor, judge, and moderate the social media platforms. Such a measure would help alleviate the apprehensions that the new rules and regulations may be misused by a government in power.

It would also ensure that social media has not just power, but also shoulders the responsibility that is required of an internet intermediary in today’s context. With up to half of India’s eligible population (less than 13/14 years of age) likely to be on one social media platform or the other, there indeed is a need to ensure that these platforms are not used by elements that are detrimental to the society and the nation.

Indeed, when too much power, direct or indirect, gets concentrated in any institution or platform, it is important to put the right set of checks and balances in place.

By issuing the intermediary guidelines, the government has done well to put the necessary checks in place. What it needs to do now is to balance it all by constituting a multi-stakeholder mechanism (panel) to monitor any potential breach and recommend any corrective measures or punitive actions to the concerned government authorities.

This way, the panel itself works like an intermediary between the government and the social media companies as well as between the users and the government or the social media companies.

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Fisheries key to sustainable food security: V-P

Fisheries key to sustainable food security: V-P

The Vice President of India, M Venkaiah Naidu has said that environmentally friendly aquaculture can serve as a vehicle for rural development, food and nutritional security for the rural masses, considering the substantial contribution aquaculture makes towards socio-economic development in terms of income and employment.

Naidu was inaugurating the 5th Aqua Aquaria India 2019, India’s International Aquaculture Show, organized by the Marine Products Export Development Authority (MPEDA), in Hyderabad today.

“Sustainability and conservation must be the twin pillars on which we build our fisheries sector,” the Vice President said. (Tweeted by @VPSecretariat)

Highlighting the government’s resolve to double farmers’ income by 2022, the Vice President underscored the necessity of ensuring that the economic benefits from fisheries reach the primary producers, the fishermen and fish farmers. “We must reduce the role of middlemen, provide crop insurances, enhance access to credit, develop cold chains and good upcountry market linkages, provide infrastructure for post-harvest storage, handling and value addition,” he added.

Cautioning that reckless exploitation of limited resources, especially endangered marine species must be strictly prevented, the Vice President stressed that the promotion, regulation and monitoring of responsible fishing practices, through robust fisheries management and governance frameworks are essential for the sustainability of fisheries resources in both coastal areas and high seas.

The Vice President said that the burning concerns of marine and fresh water pollution caused by discarded plastics and harmful chemicals must be addressed on priority basis. Referring to the looming threats of global warming and climate change, he called for a coordinated response to tackle these issues. “Sustainability and conservation must be the twin pillars on which we build our fisheries sector,” he exhorted.

Speaking of India’s enormous potential in the fisheries sector, the Vice President stated that India is the second largest fish producer in the world with a production of 13.70 million metric tons of fish during 2018–19.

Reasoning that the rising world population is putting further pressure on the available food resources, the Vice President said that there was an urgent need to boost fish production to ensure food security to our billion-strong population.

Referring to the slogan given by the former Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, ‘Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan and Jai Vigyan,’ Naidu said that we must salute the soldiers for guarding our borders, we must salute the farmer for producing food for us and we must salute the Scientists for making India scientifically advanced.

Endorsing the call given by the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi for Fit India, the Vice President said that it is the need of the hour and has to become a national movement. Intake of food rich in proteins, such as fish, is crucial for good health, he added.

Naidu said that with a long coastline of over 8,000 km and exploitable fisheries resources of 3.9 million metric tons, India is blessed with vast aquatic resources with a rich diversity of fish fauna for sustainable utilization. He added that India’s vast and diverse aquatic resources offered an excellent opportunity for expansion of aquaculture.

The Vice President also pointed out that globally, aquaculture is being looked upon as the best alternative to boost fish production, as the production from the traditional and marine fisheries have been stagnating.
Expressing concern that India exploits only a fraction of the aquaculture potential that is available to it, he said that there is room for both horizontal and vertical expansion in the fisheries sector. He also spoke about the immense potential India has in the field of mariculture.

Referring to the need for diversifying aquaculture, Naidu said that cage culture in floating or fixed cages and pen culture would help us meet this objective. The Vice President suggested that our future outlook must focus not on increasing our fishing efforts in the seas, but on judicious use of the declining fishery resources by reducing losses and focusing on value addition.

Stating that fisheries and aquaculture are multidisciplinary subjects where scientists and technologists have to work as teams, Naidu said that initiatives like Aqua Aquaria must not only serve as platforms for sharing knowledge and information on new technologies but also strive to take this knowledge to the common people, fish farmers and primary producers.

Referring to the role played by modern technology in enhancing production and productivity, the Vice President said that greater R&D support with strong linkages between research and development agencies was the need of the hour.

He congratulated MPEDA for organizing the 3-day exposition and expressed hope that such events would help giving a renewed impetus to the sector by infusing new ideas and advanced technology.
The Vice President inaugurated the MPEDA-RGCA Exhibition and the Business to Business Exhibition and went around the same.

The Minister for Animal Husbandry, Fisheries and Marketing, Andhra Pradesh, Mopidevi Venkata Ramana Rao; the Minister for Animal Husbandry and Fisheries, Telangana, T Srinivasa Yadav; the Chairman, MPEDA, KS Srinivas and other dignitaries were present on the occasion.

Mahindra’s Plant a Tree campaign engages 4.5M

Mahindra’s Plant a Tree campaign engages 4.5M

Mahindra Group has said its three-month long citizens’ movement campaign #CelebrateDifferently has culminated with engagement (likes, shares and comments on the hashtag) from 4.5 million citizens. Under the Mahindra Hariyali initiative, Mahindra Group will now plant equivalent number of trees over the next four years to #RiseAgainstClimateChange.

Planting trees, including improving forest management, conservation, and regeneration, will help offset India’s annual greenhouse gas emissions, as well as providing a host of wider environmental and socio-economic benefits. As per research, more than 90% of young people agree that humans are responsible for climate change. 48.8% believe climate change is a more serious issue than war or inequality, Mahindra said in a release. Being the largest demographic group in India, millennials want to curb the effects of global warming and live a sustainable life. With millennials as the key catalyst of the initiative, #CelebrateDifferently was also conceptualized to encourage citizens to include tree plantation as part of their key celebrations. Alternately, individuals who are not able to do so, could simply like, share or comment on #CelebrateDifferently and Mahindra Hariyali committed to plant a tree on their behalf, the release added.

Sharing his thoughts on the success of the campaign, Ruzbeh Irani, President Group Communications and Ethics & Chief Brand Officer, Mahindra Group, stated, “The idea behind our citizen movement initiative was to collectively work towards giving back more than we take from our planet. Driven primarily by the millennials, our campaign has received an overwhelming response from citizens. Although campaign is concluded, we sincerely hope that #CelebrateDifferently continues to be a way of life for every citizen hereon.”

Mahindra said Citizens could continue to #CelebrateDifferently by planting with the help if NGOs such as, Grow Trees, etc. Grow Trees can help them give back to the environment by planting a tree in their name, which they can track.

As a part of the ongoing effort towards environment conservation, Mahindra Group aims to become net carbon neutral by 2040. Twenty companies of the Mahindra Group have committed to science-based targets that are in line with the decarbonization required to keep global temperature increase below 2°C.

Shah lauds Mission Million Trees, flags off EV buses

Shah lauds Mission Million Trees, flags off EV buses

Union Home Minister Amit Shah today participated in the concluding ceremony of “Mission Million trees” program organized by Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation. The Mission which started on World Environment Day on 5 June 2019 has been concluded with plantation of 10,87,000 trees in Ahmedabad city.

Speaking on the occasion, Shah urged people to keep away from using plastics bags while purchasing groceries and vegetables. Reminding the citizens of Paris climate accord, he outlined the danger of ozone layer depletion because of CO2 and CO emission worldover.

Union Home Minister planting a banyan tree on the concluding day of #MissionMillionTrees in Ahmedabad. (Pix tweeted by @AmitShah)

The Home Minister recalled that the Prime Minister Narendra Modi on resuming powers second time in 2019 created a separate ministry for Jal Shakti. He said that this step will guide the entire world in coming days on various fronts of environment conservation including water conservation, water saving, wastewater treatment, irrigation innovations, etc.

Shah also flagged off eight AC electric buses in the city and also inaugurated a battery charging station. Lauding the efforts of Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation, Shah appreciated that Ahmedabad has taken a lead on electric Mobility with countrymade buses. He also appealed to the civic authorities to keep prepared for technological needs such as establishment of efficient battery exchanging stations which should be time saving and energy efficient.

Shah had written a special letter to the chairmen/secretaries of the resident societies in his parliamentary constituency to plant at least 5 trees in their society which have more than 100 years of age such as Banyan tree, Peepal tree, etc. Expressing satisfaction at the response, the Home Minister said that he has received 3,216 positive replies in which the societies have also made arrangement for regular watering and maintenance of the trees.

Speaking on the occasion, the state Chief Minister Vijay Bhai Rupani assured the Home Minister that Gujarat will take lead in the country on enhancement of electric mobility. He emphasized that 50 electric buses have been provisioned in Ahmedabad now but in very short span of time 500 electric buses will be put to service in Ahmedabad alone. He reiterated for green, clean, environment friendly and pollution free state of Gujarat.

Vijay Rupani also informed that the electric buses are indigenously made which echoes the sentiments of Make in India. Expressing satisfaction at sufficient rainfall this monsoon, Rupani said that numerous check dams, ponds and other water conservation efforts of the state government in last 3 years are now yielding good results following this year’s good rainfall.

Bijal Patel, Mayor, Ahmedabad; Pradipsinh Jadeja, Home Minister, Government of Gujarat; RC Faldu, Agriculture Minister, Government of Gujarat; Kaushik Bhai Patel, Revenue Minister, Government of Gujarat, and other dignitaries were also present on the occasion.

Center releases Rs 47,436 crore for afforestation

Center releases Rs 47,436 crore for afforestation

In a major boost towards promoting afforestation and achieving green objectives of the country, Union Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Prakash Javadekar, today handed over Rs 47,436 crore of CAMPA funds to various states, in presence of Minister of State, MoEF&CC, Babul Supriyo. In a meeting of State Forest Ministers and Authorities held at New Delhi, the Environment Minister stated, “The State budget for forests shall remain unaffected and the fund being transferred would be in addition to State Budget and it is expected that all States will utilize this fund towards forestry activities to achieve the objectives of the Nationally-Determined Contributions (NDCs) of increasing its forest & tree cover, which will create an additional carbon sink equivalent to 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide by the year 2030.” The Environment Minister further emphasized that the CAMPA funds cannot be used for payment of salary, travelling allowances, medical expenses, etc.

Union Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Prakash Javadekar Minister of State, MoEF&CC, Babul Supriyo with representatives from states. (Pix: PIB)

Underlining the efforts of the Government towards preserving and improving the forest wealth and ecological security of the country, Javadekar said “Important activities on which the fund will be utilized will be for the Compensatory Afforestation, Catchment Area Treatment, Wildlife Management, Assisted Natural Regeneration, Forest Fire Prevention and Control Operations, Soil and Moisture Conservation Works in the forest, Improvement of Wildlife Habitat, Management of Biological Diversity and Biological Resources, Research in Forestry and Monitoring of CAMPA works etc.”

Background of CAMPA
With the initial experience of the states regarding under-utilization of the money collected towards compensatory afforestation, Supreme Court of India ordered for establishment of Compensatory Afforestation Fund and Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) in 2001.

In 2006, separate bank accounts were opened in which the compensatory levies were deposited and ad hoc CAMPA was established for the management of Compensatory afforestation fund. In 2009, Supreme Court permitted release of Rs 1,000 crore every year to States/UTs for compensatory afforestation and other activities. In 2014, Supreme Court permitted release of 10% of total deposit of states in the fund from interest accrued on the deposits.

This Act has provisioned that CAMPA funds shall be kept in interest bearing non-lapsable Public Account. After detailed deliberations with CAG and Ministry of Finance and deliberations with other Stakeholders, the fund flow mechanism could be finalized and the CAF Rules were finally put in place in 2018.

After notification of CAF Rules, with approval of the Supreme Court on 28 Jan 2019, an amount of Rs 54,685 Crore from Ad-hoc CAMPA has been brought under the control of Government of India. So far 27 States/UTs have created accounts for receiving the Funds from Union Government and today funds to the tune of Rs 47,436 crore have been transferred to those States. The Fund shall be utilized as per the provisions of the CAF Act and CAF Rules.

India to restore 50 lakh ha of degraded land by 2030

India to restore 50 lakh ha of degraded land by 2030

India will be hosting the 14th Conference of Parties (COP14) to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) from 2–13 September 2019 at India Expo Centre & Mart, Greater Noida. Delivering the keynote address at a Curtain Raiser Press Conference in New Delhi, Union Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Prakash Javadekar, highlighted India’s resolve to combat desertification. Desertification is a worldwide problem directly affecting 250 million people and a third of the earth’s land surface. To fight this menace, India will convert degraded land of nearly 50 lakh hectares to fertile land in next 10 years; it will implement provisions of New Delhi Declaration which is to be adopted at the end of conference and a Centre for Excellence will be established at Dehradun,” said Javadekar.

The Environment Minister also expressed India’s continued commitment to stay on track on a sustainable path to land use and land management. “It is our collective responsibility to do our duty towards protecting the environment and ensuring that there is no harmful impact on it,” said Javadekar. Elaborating further on India’s key role as the President of UNCCD COP for the next two years, Javadekar said “It is the common resolve of the World to combat desertification and India will lead from the front and move the world in a positive direction, taking into cognizance the support of other countries”.

Delegates from 196 countries comprising of scientists and representatives of national and local governments, global business leaders, NGOs, gender-based organizations, youth groups, journalists, and faith and community groups will present and share their expertise and give an overview to achieve their goals at the 12-day conference .

The Convention entered into force in December 1996. It is one of the three Rio Conventions along with United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). India became a signatory to UNCCD on 14 October 1994 and ratified it on 17 December 1996.

The main objective of the convention is to combat desertification and mitigate the effects of drought in countries experiencing serious drought and/or desertification, involving long-term integrated strategies that focus simultaneously, in affected areas, on improved productivity of land, and the rehabilitation, conservation and sustainable management of land and water resources, leading to improved living conditions, in particular at the community level. The Convention’s 197 parties work together to improve the living conditions for people in drylands, to maintain and restore land and soil productivity, and to mitigate the effects of drought. The UNCCD is particularly committed to a bottom-up approach, encouraging the participation of local people in combating desertification and land degradation.

Source: PIB. 

Modi talks Biodiversity, Oceans, Climate at G7

Modi talks Biodiversity, Oceans, Climate at G7

At the G7 Summit in Biarritz, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has addressed the session on ‘Biodiversity, Oceans, Climate.’ He has highlighted India’s large scale efforts towards eliminating single use plastic, conserving water, harnessing solar energy and, protecting flora and fauna for a sustainable future.

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