Union Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Sunday said the government will not accept “internet imperialism” by few companies, The Indian Express reported. In an interview to the newspaper, without naming any particular company, he said that they should respect “local ideas, culture, traditions, and sentiments”.
“Any kind of internet imperialism by a select few is plainly unacceptable,” Prasad said. “If the internet is a global phenomenon, it has become so because it has empowered people across.”
The Union minister also defended the new digital media rules brought by the government, suggesting that those who give “gyan” (sermons) through criticism on social media, “must have the courage to verify themselves”, for authentication of their genuineness, The Indian Express reported.
“Significant social media platforms should have a voluntary user verification mechanism and some markers to identify a verified account, so that those not willing to verify can also be known,” Prasad said, adding that the new rules were aimed at “checking abuse and misuse of social media”.
He further claimed that the rules will provide a grievance redressal mechanism for social media users in the country. “The complaints and voices of victims were not heard,” he said, according to The Indian Express. “If these platforms gave them voice, it should also give them an outlet to be heard and then resolve those complaints in a time bound manner.”
The government issued the new set of sweeping rules on February 25 to regulate social media companies, streaming and digital news content that will virtually bring these platforms, for the first time, under the ambit of government supervision.
He also denied that the rules were introduced without consultations with stakeholders. “There were extensive consultations before the new guidelines were introduced...The guidelines were framed after the matter has been engaged in judiciary, including Supreme Court and many Parliamentary committees, apart from concerned civil societies,” Prasad said, claiming that consultations with over-the-top platforms were held in Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai, The Indian Express reported.
Speaking specifically on digital news platforms, the minister argued that the new rules do not ask them for any registration, but for information like “who they are, what channels do they operate and what is their location”.
“In the case of digital news media, we do not know how many of them are operating across the country,” Prasad told The Indian Express. “You go to YouTube, you find a lot of journalists, editors and others.”
Following the introduction of the new rules, the Internet Freedom Foundation had said that the new rules could likely mean “government oversight and more censorship”. Meanwhile, DigiPub, an 11-member digital-only news association, has written to the Centre suggesting that the rules seem to “go against the fundamental principle of news and its role in a democracy”.
The Congress also criticised the new social media rules, saying they were “non-statutory” guidelines that the government was attempting to bring without the Parliament’s assent.
Prasad also doubled down on the recent tussle with Twitter, where the Centre reprimanded the micro-blogging for not complying with its orders to take down certain content, in the wake of ongoing farmers’ protests.
“How can Twitter justify #FarmerGenocide?” Prasad told The Indian Express, pointing out at the hashtag. “When we had flagged them, many of these posts had come from across the border...Now if the platforms do not follow the orders even after that, the emergency powers in existence will have to be used.”
The minister drew a comparison between the US Capitol riots and the violence in Delhi on January 26, by a section of the people claiming to be involved with the farmers’ protests, entered the national Capital during a tractor march.
“If Capitol Hill is a symbol of their democracy, our Lal Quila [Red Fort] is also the pride of India... You can’t have double standards,” he said, according to The Indian Express. He said that the social media platforms operating in India will have to abide by Article 19 (2) of the Constitution, which enlists reasonable restrictions on freedom of speech and expression.
“The platforms can not say that they will follow their own laws and rules,” Prasad told The Indian Express.