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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Now, Hyundai starts work on an electric race car

Now, Hyundai starts work on an electric race car

Hyundai Motorsport says it has begun work on its first ever electric race car in a new project that will herald a new motorsport era for the company. The car, which has been designed and built at Hyundai Motorsport’s headquarters in Alzenau, Germany, will break cover for the first time on September 10, the media day of the International Motor Show (IAA) in Frankfurt.

The move to electric continues the growth of Hyundai Motorsport, which has become well established in rallying and circuit racing since its inception in 2012. The multiple rally-winning WRC team, now in its sixth season, is currently leading a closely fought Manufacturers’ Championship.

The company also boasts a successful Customer Racing division, established in September 2015, which has developed the competitive i20 R5, i30 N TCR and Veloster N TCR cars that have between them claimed victories and championships in motorsport series around the world. The first glimpses of the new car can be seen in videos published on Hyundai Motorsport’s Social Media channels, offering a hint of what is to come at the official reveal next month.

Mirroring the move towards hybrid technology and electrification in the automotive industry, motorsport has also ventured into new territory in recent years with the introduction of electric and hybrid series and regulations. This exciting new chapter promises to showcase Hyundai’s high-performance capabilities, its green technology credentials and its unwavering passion for motorsport.

“A new era is dawning at Hyundai Motorsport. For many months, our team in Alzenau has been working hard on an exciting electric vehicle and soon we will be able to share the fruits of these labours,” Andrea Adamo, Team Director said. “It promises to be a new chapter for our company, a natural extension to our motorsport activities, one that links closely to the current trends and innovations in the wider automotive industry. There’s not much longer to wait; all will be revealed at the IAA in Frankfurt in early September.”

Costa Rica generates 99.99% of electricity from renewable sources

Costa Rica generates 99.99% of electricity from renewable sources

Hydroelectric-plant

Representative image–Hydroelectric plant.

Latin American country Costa Rica, which aims to be 100% carbon-neutral by 2021, derived 99.99% of its total generated electricity from renewable sources in the month of May 2019, says a news report.
Citing data from National Energy Control Center (Cence), the geothermal energy news and research website Think Geo Energy added that the country generated a total of 984.19 GWh of energy during the month. While 80.04% of this came from the hydel sources; 12.9% was produced by geothermal plants, 6.99% by wind, and 0.06% by biomass and solar energy. Only 0.01% was generated by pollution-causing thermal plants.
The achievement is all the more significant given that demand for electricity has surged over the past few decades. As noted by a Wikipedia page on the topic, electricity consumption had increased by 4.2 times between 1980 and 2009 and 99.5% of the population had access to electricity.
However, when it comes to reducing CO2 emissions, the country’s transportation system still has a long distance to cover. A sequential rise in the number of vehicles has led to an increase in the consumption of fossil fuels.

Tata to set up 300 EV charging stations in 5 cities

Tata to set up 300 EV charging stations in 5 cities

Tata Tigor EV charging

LtoR – Ramesh Subramanyam, CFO & President – New Biz, TPL and Shailesh Chandra, President – Electric Mobility Business & Corporate Strategy. (Image: Tata Motors)

Within days after the government cut GST rates on EV charging stations to 5% from 18% earlier, Tata Power and Tata Motors have announced their partnership to install 300 fast charging stations by the end of the FY20, across key five cities namely Mumbai, Delhi, Pune, Bangalore and Hyderabad. The two companies inaugurated their first seven charging stations in Pune, to enable the e-mobility drive in the city. Over the next two months, 45 more chargers will be installed across the other four cities. These chargers will be installed at Tata Motors dealerships, certain Tata Group retail outlets and other public locations.

The new GST rates on EV charging came into effect from 1 Aug 2019.

The chargers will be operated by Tata Power and will adhere to Bharat Standard (15 kW) for the initial 50 chargers. Going forward, there will also be charging stations that will adhere to 30-50 kW DC CCS2 Standard. These chargers can be accessed by any electric vehicle user, having cars compatible to the above charging standards. Tata Power and Tata Motors have jointly developed an attractive charging tariff for Tata Motors EV customers.

Speaking at the occasion, Praveer Sinha, MD & CEO Tata Power, said, “We are committed to making India EV ready in line with the Government’s ambition of providing green technology solutions and Tata Group’s vision of reducing India’s carbon footprint. Our aim is to make EV Charging as fast and easy as possible for all Indians and we are very pleased to partner with Tata Motors, with whom we jointly identified high priority locations which could be preferred by the potential EV owners.”

Commenting on the collaboration, Guenter Butschek, CEO & MD Tata Motors Ltd., said, “We are happy to partner with Tata Power for taking the first step in developing ubiquitous EV charging infrastructure in India. This partnership is an important milestone in our journey to offer complete ecosystem solutions and offer peace of mind to our customers. We remain committed to the sustainable mobility mission and will continue to work towards bringing aspirational e-mobility solutions for the customers, leading the drive towards faster adoption of electric vehicles in the country.”

Tata Power’s current EV infrastructure presence in Mumbai is 42 charging points and its mobility infrastructure footprint is in multiple cities including Hyderabad, Bangalore and Delhi with a total of 85 charging points set up across various usage scenarios. The company has signed landmark MoUs for setting up commercial scale EV charging stations at HPCL, IOCL, and IGL retail outlets. The company also partnered with Tata Motors earlier to support Maharashtra Government’s vision of promoting e-mobility in the State by setting up public EV charging stations.

As an introductory offer, Tata Motors EV Customers can avail free charging for the next three months.

 

Ace water project delivers 3.5L conservation measures

Ace water project delivers 3.5L conservation measures

water drop

Water conservation efforts are gathering steam. (Representative image).

India is taking some sound measures in the direction of improving water security, especially in water-distressed areas. The outcome delivered by one such measure, Jal Shakti Abhiyan (JSA) is laudable. It has delivered over 3.5 lakh water conservation measures in 256 districts in a span of just one month.

Of the conservation measures that the Centre initiated JSA has delivered, 1.54 lakh are of water conservation and rainwater harvesting measures, 20,000 relate to the rejuvenation of traditional water bodies, over 65,000 are reuse and recharge structures and 1.23 lakh are watershed development projects. An estimated 2.64 crore people have already participated in the Abhiyan making it a jan andolan. About 4.25 crore saplings were planted as a part of the efforts. The outcome of the first phase of the Jal Shakti Abhiyan was announced at a review by Cabinet Secretary in New Delhi today.

Chairing the review, Pradeep Kumar Sinha, Union Cabinet Secretary, appreciated the efforts and commitment shown by the nodal officers in the campaign and encouraged them to closely work with districts for bringing significant changes through key interventions and initiatives. He said, “JSA has definitely created a lot of buzz in the country, and it will do lot of good in the years to come. Our aim is to ensure the benefits reach the farmers at the ground-level.”

Parameswaran Iyer, Secretary, DDWS, shared that the JSA has led to an increase in groundwater level, surface water storage capacity, soil moisture in farmlands and increased plant cover. The JSA is a collaborative effort of various Ministries of the Centre and State Governments, and is primarily a Jal Sanchay campaign, which has gained phenomenal momentum in this past one month.

The campaign is successfully running with the involvement of about 1,300 officers of the central government joined by state and district officials who are required to take up 3 field visits.

Workshop with Aamir Khan and Kiran Rao, Founders, Paani Foundation.

The workshop also had presentations by prominent NGOs working in the area of water conservation, deploying successful interventions, innovations and strategies. Aamir Khan, renowned actor and the founder of Paani Foundation, showcased encouraging films about grass-root level stories in Maharashtra, where lives have been impacted by the Foundation’s mobilization efforts in respective villages. He emphasized upon the need of educating people at village-level about the importance of saving water, showing them effective ways and techniques and how they can play a leading role in taking the initiatives forward.

Kalyan Paul, Executive Director, Pan Himalayan Grassroots Development Foundation, Uttarakhand elaborated how women played an important role in water conservation across the mountain states of India. Aranyak, an NGO working in North East India highlighted the importance of “Dong Bundh System” (a traditional water conservation and management system) which ensures availability of drinking and irrigation water by deploying conventional methods. Representatives of Bangalore based Arghyam highlighted the importance of educating locals, honing their skills, ensuring their participation and ownership to manage local water bodies and continuing this practice on a daily basis as the ways to ensure efficient water conservation measures.

The review-meeting-cum-workshop was attended by concerned Union Secretaries who clarified on points relating to their departments. TP Singh, Advisor, MEITY made a presentation about the application of Space and Geo Information (3-D) in Jal Shanchay.

News source: PIB.

Blending power with renewable energy is the way ahead: Pradhan

Blending power with renewable energy is the way ahead: Pradhan

Dharmendra Pradhan

The goal is to have 40% electricity generation capacity from non-fossil fuel-based energy resources by 2030: Pradhan (Pix source: PIB)

Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas & Steel Dharmendra Pradhan has said that India’s growing energy sector is attractive for foreign investors. Speaking at Bloomberg NEF New Delhi Summit today, he said that it has repeatedly received funding from sovereign wealth funds, pension funds, long-term strategic investors from Western countries, Asian Countries and the Middle East, said a PIB release.

Pradhan said India remains a bright spot in the global economy. With strong domestic economy and supportive policy environment, the Government is committed towards achieving holistic, inclusive and sustainable economic development. India will become 3 trillion-dollar economy this year and aims to achieve a 5 trillion-dollar target in the near future. To achieve this target, India needs secure, affordable and sustainable energy to sustain the high growth and provide energy access to 1.3 billion people. Therefore, it is important for us to tap every source of energy. “We have taken several measures to overhaul the hydrocarbon sector to ensure energy security for the country while pursuing a green path to progress,” he said.

On the issue of energy landscape, the Minister said that it is passing through a big change – making way for clean energy technologies. “In a drive to provide energy access to all in a sustainable manner, our Government has taken a big responsibility by making global commitment to reduce emissions intensity of its GDP by 33–35% from 2005 levels. One of the main strategies India is planning to adopt towards achieving this goal is by having 40% electricity generation capacity from non-fossil fuel-based energy resources by 2030,” he added.

Appreciating the oil and gas companies for investing in developing renewable energy projects for self-consumption and for supplying to the grid, Pradhan said oil marketing companies are providing soft loans and subsidies to petrol pump dealers to install solar rooftops. He said, “This is the right time to think of sale options like blending electricity generated from gas power plants with renewable energy. This will further aid the process of emission reduction.”

Pradhan said the Government is committed towards clean energy, which extends beyond just electricity. The Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana has transformed the lives of millions of poor households by ensuring access to clean cooking fuel. “More than 75 million LPG connections have been provided under the Ujjwala Yojana so far, which has resulted in enhancing the LPG penetration in India to around 95% as against 56% in May 2014. The Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana has saved millions of women and children from the health hazards of smoky kitchens,” he said.

On the issue of city gas network, Pradhan said that only 20% of the population was covered under it in 2014 but with the success of the 10th CGD Bid Round, CGD network will expand to nearly 70% of our population. CGD would be available in 228 geographical areas comprising 402 districts spread over 27 States and Union Territories covering 53% of the country. The recently-concluded 9th and 10th CGD rounds will require investment of one lakh twenty thousand crore rupees.

The Minister said that many of our refineries are today close to large urban clusters, and as part of their focus as good corporate citizens, all have shifted to cleaner natural gas for their energy needs. In addition, the government has already implemented fuel efficiency norms for commercial heavy vehicles. “To tackle pollution issues, we are looking at gas-based transportation solutions. We are switching to BS-VI fuels from 1st April 2020. The National Capital Territory of Delhi has already switched to BS-VI fuels in April last year. We are promoting the use of CNG, bio-CNG and LNG in transportation sector. We are setting up bio-refineries and targeting newer sources of ethanol. The ethanol-blended program will enable OMCs to sell 10% blended petrol,” Pradhan said.

On the bio-diesel program, the Minister said “I am confident that we will soon be rolling out initiatives to enable achievement of 5% biodiesel blended diesel across country.” He said, “we will promote EVs, but it will be a holistic and integrated planning, where I have mentioned in my recent statements that all forms of transportation, which are clean and affordable, will be considered in our Energy Policy.”

The Minister said, “We are mindful of the difficulties being faced by investors in some instances where State Government is trying to renegotiate some of the executed contracts. Our Government has requested State Governments to reconsider their decision, as this will jeopardize future investment in not only the concerned state but also the country as a whole.

1.5GW solar PV tenders floated for govt. producers

1.5GW solar PV tenders floated for govt. producers

grid connected solar

Grid connected solar (Representative image).

Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI) has floated a request for selection (RfS) document for selection of solar power developers for the next tranche of solar PV power projects in India.
As part of Tranche II of Phase II, the project will identify successful developers for setting up 1500 MW grid-connected solar PV power projects.
However, only government producers are allowed to participate as bidder under this RfS. Government producers can be any entity which is either directly controlled by the central or state governments or is under the administrative control of central or state government or a company in which government is having more than 50% shareholding.
The scheduled commissioning date for commissioning of the full capacity of the project shall be the date as on 24 months from the date of issuance of LoI. The maximum time period allowed for commissioning of the full project capacity shall be limited to 30 months from the date of issuance of LoI.

SECI is a CPSU under the administrative control of the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), and has a major role to play in the sector’s development. The company is responsible for implementation of a number of schemes of MNRE, major ones being the Viability Gap Funding (VGF) schemes for large-scale grid-connected projects under JNNSM, solar park scheme, and grid-connected solar rooftop scheme.

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