Technology giants should be regulated - Hindustan Times
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Technology giants should be regulated

ByHT Editorial
Aug 12, 2022 05:56 PM IST

The only question is how, for the chosen model should balance individual freedoms with accountability and responsibility, and innovation and scale with free and fair competition

Tech giant Google is reluctant on backing a self-regulatory mechanism for social media content moderation in India, news agency Reuters reported this week, citing discussions from a closed-door meeting between some of these companies. A self-regulatory body is increasingly a plausible middle path to the thorny problem of who determines how online speech is policed. Tech companies tend to advocate for autonomy of what they say concerns their business and product, while governments, law enforcement and civil society seek a larger say in these matters. Ultimately, what happens in the borderless cyberspace invariably affects sovereign physical domains. India has identified the need for regulation but solutions at present sit on two extremes: the de-facto mechanism, where companies act unilaterally, or new obligations disclosed by the government, which will give the State the final say on content moderation.

At the heart of this debate is the insistence by social media companies that they be treated as intermediaries, not as publishers although they exercise editorial discretion any time they take down a user’s post, and although much of their revenue comes from advertising. (SHUTTERSTOCK) PREMIUM
At the heart of this debate is the insistence by social media companies that they be treated as intermediaries, not as publishers although they exercise editorial discretion any time they take down a user’s post, and although much of their revenue comes from advertising. (SHUTTERSTOCK)

At the heart of this debate is the insistence by social media companies that they be treated as intermediaries, not as publishers although they exercise editorial discretion any time they take down a user’s post, and although much of their revenue comes from advertising. Such discretion is arguably necessary because legality of speech can come in many shades of grey. But, justified or not, the prerogative is no different than legacy media’s, which is not free from regulation. India has followed a self-regulatory model for it for decades. Take for instance the Press Council of India, a statutory body that dictates codes and ethics that journalists and newspapers need to abide by. In television’s case, the mechanism rests on the News Broadcasting and Digital Standards Authority. While some members of the PCI are appointed by elected lawmakers, the NBDSA is an independent body. But both have members from industry, and take on issues relating to regulation, operations and ethics, in addition to hearing complaints. And both bodies have helped hold companies to regulation, while preventing overreach by the State.

The parallels between functions of social and legacy media companies are clear, and there is no reason that the principles of a model that has worked for one cannot for the other. The need is becoming increasingly pressing today, a time when misleading information has taken on pandemic proportions. Misinformation and disinformation has led to everyday harms, threatening society, public health and democracy. Beyond that, Big Tech has monopolised the digital information and revenue systems, especially by engineering their products to best work with their own advertising businesses. It is about time they meet the world at least halfway in creating an internet that is controlled by the many, not the few.

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