Union Information Technology Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw on Friday said the Centre was ready to bring in stricter rules to govern social media if there was a consensus in the House, reported The Hindu.
Vaishnaw, however, defended the government, saying that it has taken steps to make social media accountable, after the Opposition accused the Centre of attacking freedom of speech.
“We need to bring a balance in society, bring a consensus that to safeguard the future of our youth, women, sisters and daughters, social media will have to be made accountable,” he said. “We will have to give more strength to those rules.”
He said at this time, the government was working within the constitutional framework and the role of both the states and the Centre for social media accountability needs to be seen in perspective, reported PTI.
The minister’s reply came after set of questions was raised during the Question Hour on abuse on social media.
On a question raised by Bharatiya Janata Party MP Sushil Kumar Modi about the use of doctored images of Muslim women and their “online auction”, Vaishnaw said that it was not a matter of religion but providing women safety and protecting their dignity.
“We cannot make any compromises here,” he said. “This is our commitment.” He said the government has acted on the any information that has come out in regard to the “online auction” of Muslim women.
Modi’s question was on the recent attempts to target Muslim women. In July, an app called “Sulli Deals” had posted hundreds of images of Muslim women and described them as “deals of the day”. Later in January, another application by the name of “Bulli Bai” had illegally uploaded images of prominent Indian Muslim women as part of an online “auction”.
Both “Bulli” and “Sulli” are abusive and derogatory ways of referring to Muslim women.
In response to a question by Congress member Anand Sharma, Vaishnaw said that law enforcement agencies take action on the basis of reports by the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team or the information technology ministry, reported the Hindustan Times.
“There is also a central portal where such cases can be registered and forwarded to the relevant law enforcement agency,” he said. “I agree with you that we have to come forward as a society and create greater accountability.”
Vaishnaw also said social media was prevalent in society and has a lot of importance in people’s lives. In view of this, he said, the government brought comprehensive intermediary rules and guidelines for social media last year to make social media safe and accountable and avoid its misuse.
He was referring to the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) that were introduced by the Centre in February last year.
The new rules are a sweeping set of regulations for social media companies, streaming platforms and digital news content. They virtually bring the platforms under the government’s supervision for the first time.
For digital news media and video streaming platforms, the new rules provide a self-regulatory body and an inter-departmental committee wide-ranging punitive powers to “warn/censure/admonish/reprimand the publisher” or even censor content as they deem fit.