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

Andhra’s Polavaram project gets Extension

Andhra’s Polavaram project gets Extension

In a major decision, the Union Environment Ministry has today given two years of extension and allowed the construction works related to Polavaram Multipurpose Project. Informing the media in New Delhi the Union Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change Prakash Javadekar said that today the order has been signed and ministry has allowed the construction works for two years.

The Union Minister stressed that Polavaram project is very important to the people of Andhra Pradesh as it will irrigate nearly 3 lakh ha of land, generate hydel power with installed capacity of 960 MW and provide drinking water facilities to 540 enroute villages covering 25 lakh populations, particularly in Visakhapatnam, East Godavari and West Godavari and Krishna Districts.

In the year 2011 the then government had asked the Government of Andhra Pradesh to stop construction work of the project but in the year 2014 the NDA government declared the Polavaram project a National project and the ministry kept the “Stop Work Order” in abeyance to allow the construction works. The “Stop Work Order” has been kept in abeyance six times for a year each time. Considering the immense importance of the project this time the Ministry is keeping the “Stop Work Order” in abeyance to allow the construction works for two years without permission to impound water.

The Project envisages construction of Earth-cum-Rock fill dam across river Godavari. The maximum height of the dam is 48 m.

News Source: Press Information Bureau.

Image By IM3847Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

Body to resolve disputes between REs, PSUs

Body to resolve disputes between REs, PSUs

In a major decision to facilitate the solar and wind energy projects, Union Minister of State for Power and New & Renewable Energy (IC) and Skill Development & Entrepreneurship, RK Singh, has approved the formation of a three member Dispute Resolution Committee to consider the unforeseen disputes between solar/wind power developers and PSUs Solar Energy Corporation of India Limited (SECI) and National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) beyond contractual agreement.

The Members of Dispute Resolution Committee under this mechanism will be MF Farooqui (former DOT Secretary/ Heavy Industry Secretary); Anil Swarup (former Coal Secretary); and AK Dubey (former Sports Secretary), as per a Press Information Bureau release .

Union Minister of State for Power and New & Renewable Energy (IC) and Skill Development & Entrepreneurship, RK Singh. Source: Ministry of New and Renewable Energy

In an earlier statement, emphasizing the importance of this step, Singh had said that the move would give further fillip to the smooth implementation of solar/wind energy projects in India. It fulfills a long pending demand of the industry to resolve expeditiously, unforeseen disputes that may arise beyond the scope of Contractual Agreements.

The Solar and Wind Industry have been demanding setting up of Dispute Resolution Mechanism by MNRE for quite some time, to resolve expeditiously, unforeseen disputes that may arise beyond the scope of Contractual Agreements between solar power developers / wind power developers and SECI/ NTPC.

The issue was considered and it was felt that there is need to erect a transparent, unbiased Dispute Resolution Mechanism, consisting of an independent, transparent and unbiased Dispute Resolution Committee (DRC), for resolving the unforeseen disputes that may arise in implementation of contractual agreements and also for dealing with issues which are beyond the scope of Contractual Agreements between solar power developers/ wind power developers and SECI / NTPC.

The mechanism of Dispute Resolution Committee (DRC) will be applicable for all solar/ wind Schemes/ Programmes/ Projects being implemented through/ by SECI/ NTPC.

The DRC will consider following kinds of cases:

(a) All cases of appeal against decisions given by SECI on Extension of Time requests based on terms of contract: All requests for extension of time due to recognized ‘Force Majeure’ events like flood, earthquake, delay in handing over of land by Solar Park Developers, delay in connectivity, etc. will be dealt strictly as per Contractual Agreements. In all such cases, the solar power developers / wind power developers shall make an application for grant of Extension of Time (EoT) within the time specified in the Contractual Agreement. If application is not made within the time limit prescribed in the Contractual Agreement, it shall be summarily rejected by SECI/ NTPC. If application is made within the time limit, the request will be examined and final decision given to solar power developer/ wind power developer within 21 days from the date of application. No separate extension of time shall be granted for overlapping periods of effect by two or more causes. If the developer is not satisfied with the decision of SECI/ NTPC, then it may appeal to the Dispute Resolution Committee (DRC), within 21 days of SECI/NTPC’s order after paying a fee, to be decided by the DRC, which in any case shall not be less than 5% of the impact of SECI’s/NTPC’s decision being challenged. This fee shall be deposited into the Payment Security Fund maintained by SECI/ NTPC for the project concerned. In case, the Government upholds the appeal in toto, after taking into consideration the recommendation of DRC, and strikes down the SECI order, then the fee so collected shall be refunded, provided the DRC makes a recommendation for the same and the Government passes a specific order to that effect. The Fee which may be received and is not required to be refunded, shall be credited to the appropriate Payment Security Fund being maintained by SECI/NTPC.

(b) All requests of Extension of Time not covered under the terms of contract: All cases involving unforeseen issues/ circumstances not covered under Contractual Agreements like cases where the site is to be procured by the developer but there is delay in land allotment due to policy change or registration by the Government, delays in grant of proposed connectivity due to court stays, etc., will be placed before the DRC for consideration and make recommendations to Ministry of New & Renewable Energy (MNRE) for appropriate decision.

The ‘Dispute Resolution Committee’ (DRC) will examine all such cases referred to it, including the cases where the developer is not satisfied with the decision of SECI/NTPC and it decides to appeal after paying the required fee as laid down under Para (ii) (a) above, in a time bound manner and submit its recommendations to the Ministry of New & Renewable Energy (MNRE), not later than 21 days from the date of reference.

The recommendations of the ‘Dispute Resolution Committee’ (DRC) along with MNRE’s observations, will be placed before Minister (NRE) for final decision. The Ministry shall examine and put up such recommendations to Minister (NRE) with the comments of IFD within 21 days of receipt of recommendation from the DRC.

To arrive at any decision, Committee will be free to interact with the relevant parties of the case and shall record their views. For presenting the case before the DRC, no lawyers shall be permitted.

Bharatmala-I has outlay of Rs 5,35,000 Cr

Bharatmala-I has outlay of Rs 5,35,000 Cr

The Bharatmala Pariyojna Phase-I was approved at an estimated outlay of Rs. 5,35,000 Crore. A total of 24,800 kms length of National Highways have been considered in Phase-I as well as 10,000 km residual road works under NHDP. Under this program, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways has identified stretches for development of about 9,000 km length of Economic corridors, about 6,000 km length of Inter-corridor and feeder roads, about 5,000 km length of National Corridors Efficiency improvements, about 2,000 km length of Border and International connectivity roads, about 2,000 km length of Coastal and port connectivity roads, about 800 km length of Expressways. No road project in the States of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana has been envisaged under Border and International Connectivity roads component of this programme. Total 17 nos. of road projects having an aggregate length of about 701.4 km have been approved under Bharatmala Pariyojana Phase-I till March, 2019 in the States of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Out of 17 nos. projects, 15 nos. of road projects having an aggregate length of about 631.7 km have been awarded till March, 2019 in the States of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.

However, under Border Roads and International Connectivity Roads component of Bharatmala Pariyojana Phase-I, 07 nos. of road projects with an aggregate length of about 1,042 kms and total cost as Rs. 4,916 crores (approx.) have been awarded till March, 2019 in entire country. Under Coastal Roads and Port Connectivity roads component of this programme, 05 nos. of road projects with total length of about 163 kms and total cost as Rs. 2,469 crores (approx.) have been awarded till March, 2019 in entire country. Progress of all the projects is monitored electronically for ensuring completion of projects as per schedule.

This information was given by the Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways Nitin J Gadkari in a written reply in Rajya Sabha today.

News source: Press Information Bureau.

Swachh Bharat good for ground water: Study

Swachh Bharat good for ground water: Study

Union Minister for Jal Shakti Gajendra Singh Shekhawat has said that Swachhata affects all aspects of the environment – be it groundwater, surface water, soil or air – as well as health and well-being of the communities in ODF regions. Praising the Swachh Bharat Mission for bringing a reduction in ground water contamination, he said, the WHO 2018 study had estimated that the Swachh Bharat Mission will save over 3 lakh lives by the time India is Open Defacation Free. Releasing two independent third-party studies conducted on the Swachh Bharat Mission (Grameen), the Minister said, the Mission will continue to positively impact people’s lives for a long time to come.

These studies, commissioned by UNICEF and the Bill and Melinda Gates, were aimed at assessing the environmental impact and communication footprint of the Swachh Bharat Mission (Grameen) respectively. The full reports as well as the summary reports of both the studies can be downloaded from mdws.gov.in and sbm.gov.in.

Union Minister for Environment and Forests Prakash Javadekar highlighted the significance of launching these studies on World Environment Day. He said that the United Nations, aware that the protection and improvement of the human environment is a major issue which affects the well-being of peoples and economic development throughout the world, designated 5th June as World Environment Day. He added that it is only fitting that UNICEF has chosen this day to release its findings on the positive impact the Swachh Bharat Mission has had on the environment of rural India.

Secretary, Government of India, Parameswaran Iyer, in his opening remarks, shared that the rural sanitation coverage in the country had crossed the 99% mark and that the Mission was in the final stretch of its completion with 30 States and Union Territories already having declared themselves free from open defecation. He said that the Mission is focusing on sustaining the gains of this progress and to extend the momentum to the ODF-plus phase which includes solid and liquid waste management.

Summary of the study findings

Under the “Environmental impact of the Swachh Bharat Mission on Water, Soil, and Food” by UNICEF, groundwater samples were collected and studied from ODF and non-ODF villages of Odisha, Bihar and West Bengal. The study found that, in terms of faecal contamination, non-ODF villages were, on average:

  • 11.25 times more likely to have their groundwater sources contaminated (12.7 times more from contaminants traceable to humans alone)
  • 1.13 times more likely to have their soil contaminated
  • 1.48 times more likely to have food contaminated and 2.68 times more likely to have household drinking water contaminated.
  • The study findings indicated that these substantial reductions may potentially be attributed to the improvement in sanitation and hygiene practices, as well as supportive systems such as regular monitoring and behaviour change messaging, which have all been critical aspects of the Swachh Bharat Mission (Grameen).

IEC footprint study by Gates Foundation

The “Assessment of the reach and value of IEC activities under Swachh Bharat Mission (Grameen)” conducted by Dalberg, supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, estimated the scale of IEC activities within the Mission and assessed associated monetary and in-kind costs, and outputs such as reach. The study found that:

  • SBM mobilized a spend equivalent worth INR 22,000 to 26,000 crores in monetary and non-monetary IEC activities.
  • Of this spend equivalent, cash expenditure on IEC activities spent by the Government, private sector, and the development community was estimated to be between INR 3,500 – 4,000 crores.
  • Of this cash spend, ~20% (~INR 800 crores) was spent by the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation (MDWS), ~35% (~INR 1,250 crores) by the State Sanitation Departments, ~25% (~INR 1,000 crores) by other government ministries, and the other ~20% by the private sector (CSR and business expenditures) and the development sector collectively.
  • An average person living in rural India was exposed to between 2,500 – 3,300 SBM related messages over the last five years.
Gadkari takes charge of transport ministry

Gadkari takes charge of transport ministry

Nitin Gadkari took charge of the office of the Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways in New Delhi today. He also holds the portfolio of the Union Minister for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises.

Gadkari was Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways, Shipping, Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation in the previous government.

Gadkari is a member of Lok Sabha since May, 2014. He was earlier a member of the Maharashtra Legislative Council during 1989-2014. He was Minister for PWD in Maharashtra Government during 1995 to 1999.

Climate Change: Javadekar takes charge

Climate Change: Javadekar takes charge

Prakash Javadekar today assumed charge as the Union Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change here today. He was greeted at the office at Paryavaran Bhawan by Environment Secretary Shri C K Mishra and other senior officials of the ministry. Babul Supriyo also assumed charge as Minister of State.

Briefing the media after assuming the charge, the Union Minister said it is like a home coming for him as he already served in the ministry for two years in the first term of NDA government. He stressed that we will strongly reinforce that this ministry is seen as a facilitator and not merely as a regulator. “Economic growth and environment protection should go simultaneously, and we need to work with an increased impetus towards that”, said Javadekar.

After assuming the charge, the Minister also held a meeting with the senior officers of the Ministry where he was briefed on the key initiatives and policy issues of the Ministry.

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