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.

MORE FROM BETTER WORLD

Mega capacity building program launched for sustainable rural water supply and sanitation

Mega capacity building program launched for sustainable rural water supply and sanitation

water supply

The program aims to improve rural water supply and sanitation. (Representative image.)

The Union Minister of Jal Shakti, Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, launched the capacity strengthening initiative of the Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation (DDWS), Ministry of Jal Shakti, in Ranchi, Jharkhand on 27 July. He was joined at the event by the Minister of State for the Ministry of Jal Shakti, Rattan Lal Kataria, Chief Minister of Jharkhand, Raghubar Das, and Minister of the Drinking Water and Sanitation,Government of Jharkhand, Ramchandra Sahis. This initiative will create a pool of 2,800 field trainers in its initial trainings, who will reach out to around 2.5 lakh Gram Panchayats across the country.

The initiative seeks to ensure the sustainability of open defecation free (ODF) villages created under the Swachh Bharat Mission in the long term and enable field trainers and members of Panchayat Raj Institutions (PRIs)  to create capacity to manage solid and liquid wastes as well as improve access to safe and adequate drinking water supply.

Addressing more than 6,000 Mukhiyas (i.e., panchayat heads), Jal Sahiyas, Swachhagrahis and others present on the occasion, Shekhawat emphasized the need for people’s participation highlighting that it is now time to turn the “jal ka andolan” into “jan ka andolan”to avert the impending water crisis. He appreciated the role of people who has committed themselves towards the cause of the Swachh Bharat Mission. Because of their efforts, in ODF and sanitized villages lakhs of lives have been saved, he added. He urged the people to re-energize their efforts for enabling sustained safe sanitation practices and expanding their efforts towards the provision of piped water supply to every household.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Jal Shakti, Rattan Lal Kataria also appreciated the role played by the various stakeholders in making Jharkhand State ODF and reiterated that the country is on track to achieve an ODF India by 2nd October 2019, on the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.

Addressing the gathering, Secretary, DDWS, Parameswaran Iyer shared the details of the capacity building training program. He shared that by January 2020, four Field Trainers (FTs) from each district will be trained through five-day Training of Trainers (ToTs) organized by the DDWS. The FTs would then train Sarpanchs, village secretaries and Swachhagrahis in their districts through a 3-day field training supported by the states and the districts, completing the entire exercise by March 2020.

During the event, a booklet and a film on the Jharkhand State Government’s Menstrual Hygiene Management Campaign – ‘Chuppi Todo-Swasth Raho’ Abhiyan were released while grassroots functionaries shared their experiences of being a part of the Swachh Bharat Mission (Grameen). This was followed by an award ceremony recognizing the outstanding contributions in the field of sanitation.

GST on all EVs and charging slashed to 5%

GST on all EVs and charging slashed to 5%

electric vehicle charging

GST rate on charger or charging stations for EVs is cut from 18% to 5%. (Representative Image)

The 36th GST Council Meeting held in New Delhi via video conferencing under the chairmanship of Union Finance & Corporate Affairs Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, took the most awaited decision on electric vehicles. The meeting was also attended by Union Minister of State for Finance & Corporate Affairs Anurag Thakur besides Revenue Secretary Ajay Bhushan Pandey and other senior officials of the Ministry of Finance. The Council has recommended the following:

  • GST rate related changes on supply of goods and services
  • The GST rate on all electric vehicles be reduced from 12% to 5%.
  • The GST rate on charger or charging stations for Electric vehicles be reduced from 18% to 5%.
  • Hiring of electric buses (of carrying capacity of more than 12 passengers) by local authorities be exempted from GST.

These changes shall become effective from 1 August, 2019.

Govt using satellite imagery for assessing crops

Govt using satellite imagery for assessing crops

assessing crop data

Representative image.

Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY) envisages use of improved technology to reduce time gap for settlement of claims of farmers. Accordingly, the Department of Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmers Welfare, through Mahalanobis National Crop Forecast Centre (MNCFC), involved 8 agencies/ organizations to carry out pilot studies for Optimization of Crop Cutting Experiments (CCEs) in various States under PMFBY. The studies used various technologies, including Satellite data, Artificial Intelligence, Modeling tools etc. for reducing the number of CCEs required for insurance unit level for yield estimation. The studies were taken up to address a major issue of the need to carry out large number of CCEs for calculation of yield data vis-à-vis claims at Gram Panchayat level. The results are being evaluated for providing recommendations for their implementation in the upcoming seasons.

Further, an Expression of Interest (EOI) was floated with a view to migrate to technology based assessment of yield with minimum use of CCEs for Kharif 2019 season. 46 agencies participated in the EOI, out of which 26 agencies have been shortlisted on technical assessment.

The Government is also using satellite imagery to assess the crop area, crop condition and crop yield, at district level, under various programmes such as Forecasting Agricultural Output Using Space, Agrometeorology & Land based observations and Coordinated Horticulture Assessment and Management using Geo-informatics. Further, satellite data is also being used for drought assessment, to assess the potential area for growing pulses and horticultural crops.

With a view to ensure better transparency, accountability, timely payment of claims to the farmers and to make the scheme more farmer friendly, the Government of India has comprehensively revised the Operational Guidelines of the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY) which have become effective from Rabi 2018-19 season. Provision of 12% interest rate per annum to be paid by the Insurance Company to farmers for delay in settlement claims beyond 10 days of prescribed cut-off date for payment of claims. As the settlement of claims for Rabi 2018-19 season is underway, the admissible penal interest is not yet worked out.

This information was given in a written reply by the Union Minister of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare Narendra Singh Tomar in Rajya Sabha.

Uber ties up with SUN Mobility for EV push

Uber ties up with SUN Mobility for EV push

electric vehicle charging

Representative Image

Mobility service provider Uber has entered into a partnership with SUN Mobility, aimed at reducing the overall cost burden for Uber driver-partners.
SUN Mobility will offer its unique energy infrastructure platform, which includes swappable smart batteries and quick interchange stations to select original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) for building e-autos.
Fleet owners and Uber’s driver partners will benefit by receiving charged, swappable batteries as a service by SUN Mobility, thereby reducing the overall cost of e-autos to bring them in line with CNG, petrol- and diesel-powered ones.
“We are delighted to partner with SUN Mobility, an industry pioneer to try to usher in a wave of electric vehicles in the mass market category,” said Pradeep Parameswaran, President Uber, India and South Asia. “This is an important step forward in fulfilling our vision for creating a mobility ecosystem that is sustainable, provides cleaner air and helps build smarter cities across the region,” he added.
Commenting on the prospects of the partnership, Chetan Maini, Co-Founder and Vice-Chairman of SUN Mobility said, “Our mission is to give users a cost-effective and convenient energy infrastructure solution to accelerate the adoption of EVs (electric vehicles).’’
In line with the government’s vision to phase out internal combustion engine three-wheelers by 2023 and two-wheelers by 2025, the partnership will be piloted in select cities over the coming months. This could help bridge the demand-supply gap and build a more sustainable future for transport in India and beyond, an Uber newsroom release said.

Tata Motors delivers 40 electric buses to J&K

Tata Motors delivers 40 electric buses to J&K

40 Tata electric buses for J&K

Tata Motors has installed charging stations for fast charging of buses.

Tata Motors said it has supplied 40 9m 900mm Floor Height Non AC buses to the Jammu & Kashmir State Road Transport Corporation. Governor Satya Pal Malik flagged off the buses in the presence of Arvind Ganpat Sawant, Union Minister for Heavy Industries & Public Enterprises and officials from Jammu & Kashmir State Road Transport Corporation (JKSRTC) and Tata Motors at an event held in the city. Some of these buses are plying on the difficult terrains of the Jammu to Katra (Vaishno Devi) route and these electric buses will also ply in the valleys of Srinagar.

Manufactured at Tata Motors Dharwad plant, the Ultra Electric buses will have a traveling range of up to 150 kilometers on a single charge. The indigenously developed e-buses offer superior design and best-in-class features. The Li-ion batteries have been placed on the rooftop to prevent breakdown due to waterlogging. The batteries are liquid cooled to maintain the temperature within an optimum range and ensure longer life along with better performance in tropical conditions.

Speaking on the occasion, Rohit Srivastava, Vice President and Product Line Head – Passenger Commercial Vehicles, Tata Motors, said, “With growing environmental concerns, electric bus will be extremely vital for mass transit because it is not only energy efficient but also reduces overall cost per kms. Tata Motors has always been at the forefront of the E-mobility evolution and this order from JKSRTC is a testament of our excellent range of buses built for STUs in India. Our in-depth understanding of sustainable public transport for different markets and customers has helped us differentiate from our competitors. The electric buses will play an integral role in reduction of pollution load in the congested areas of our metropolis. We are determined to develop alternate fuel technologies and create more energy efficient vehicles thereby supporting the government’s efforts towards promoting electric vehicles in the country.”

Dr. A.K. Jindal, Head Engineering (Electric & Defence), CVBU, Tata Motors said, “Tata Motors has been engaging in advanced engineering and development of electric traction system for Hybrid as well as Pure Electric vehicles for over a decade. The Ultra Electric Bus is a new modular platform, which has been developed in a very short lead-time of less than a year, leveraging the knowledge and experience we have gained and demonstrating our commitment to the Government of India’s National Electric Mobility Mission Plan for Public Transport. The architecture of the platform has been conceived and developed by in-house engineering team of Tata Motors, meeting the requirement of various tenders floated by different state transport undertakings. The exterior has been designed with new brand identity that includes stylized Ultra headlamps and streamlined looks. The vehicle architecture ensures very low energy consumption and low TCO (total cost of operation) apart from being a Zero Emission environment friendly bus.”

The new-age Ultra Electric buses, powered by an Integrated Electric Motor Generator are built on existing proven platforms of Starbus and Ultra. With a max power of 245KW and continuous power of 145KW, the buses have a seating capacity of 31 + 1D seats. The buses will help in zero tailpipe emissions, 50% lower fuel costs, 20% better energy consumption and lower maintenance downtime as compared to diesel buses. As an industry first, there will be air suspension for both front and rear axles to make travel more comfortable for the commuters. Integrated electric motor generator with a peak power of 333HP can deliver 197HP continuously ensuring effortless driving in congested roads and frequent start stops needing no shifting of gears.

Commenting on the occasion, Bilal Ahmed Bhatt, Managing director, JKSRTC said, “The need for a cleaner, smarter and safer mode of transportation is a prerequisite for Jammu and Kashmir, due to the alarming rise of air pollution in the city. Tata Motors has pioneered technological innovations in the bus segment with an in-depth understanding of different market conditions, making it a perfect fit for us. Tata Motors will be delivering 40 e-buses, which will soon ply on the roads of Jammu and Kashmir. We look forward to continue this association.”

The critical electrical traction components have been sourced from internationally known best-in-class suppliers in USA, Germany and China offering proven products. The buses have been tested and validated by Tata Motors across states including Himachal Pradesh, Chandigarh, Assam and Maharashtra to establish performance in diverse terrains. The company has tenders to supply 255 electric buses to six public transport undertakings including WBTC (West Bengal), LCTSL (Lucknow), AICTSL (Indore), ASTC (Guwahati), JKSRTC (Jammu) and JCTSL (Jaipur). In addition to this, the company is also working on developing its electric mini-bus segment in the near future.

India has schemes to push organic farming

India has schemes to push organic farming

Realizing the potential and benefits of organic farming and to improve the economic condition of farmers in the country, Government of India is promoting organic farming through the dedicated schemes of Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana (PKVY) and Mission Organic Value Chain Development for North Eastern Region (MOVCDNER) under National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture (NMSA) since 2015-16. Under PKVY, flexibility is given to states to adopt any model of Organic Farming including ZBNF depending on farmer’s choice that is free from chemicals, pesticides residues and adopts eco-friendly low cost technologies.

Under PKVY, assistance of Rs. 50,000 per hectare/ 3 years is allowed out of which Rs. 31,000 (61%) is provided to farmer directly through DBT for input (biofertilisers, biopesticides, vermicompost, botanical extracts etc) production/ procurement, packing, marketing etc.

Under MOVCDNER , assistance is provided to the farmers in a value chain mode starting from formation of Farmers Producer Organisations (FPOs), on/off farm input production, supply of seeds/ planting materials, post harvest infrastructure including collection, sorting, grading facilities, establishment of integrated processing unit, refrigerated transportation, pre-cooling/ cold stores chamber, branding, labelling and packaging, etc .

These schemes are implemented through State Governments at district and village level depending on the interest of the farmers. PKVY scheme is being implemented in 29 States & UTs and MOVCDNER scheme is implemented in the States of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura since 2015-16.

This information was given in a written reply by the Union Minister of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare Narendra Singh Tomar in Lok Sabha today.

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