By Aditya Kalra
NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Google has serious reservations about developing a self-regulatory body for India’s social media industry to hear user complaints, although the proposal has backing from Facebook and Twitter, Sources familiar with the discussions told Reuters.
In June, India offered to appoint a government panel to hear user complaints about content moderation decisions, but also said it was open to the idea of a self-regulatory body if the industry wanted it.
The lack of consensus among the tech giants, however, increases the likelihood of a government panel being formed – a prospect Facebook and Meta Platforms Inc’s Twitter are keen to avoid as they fear government and corporate excesses. regulations in India, the sources said.
In a closed meeting this week, a Google executive from Alphabet Inc told fellow attendees the company was unconvinced of the merits of a self-regulatory body. The body would mean external reviews of decisions that could force Google to reinstate content, even if it violated Google’s internal policies, the executive said.
Such guidance from a self-regulatory body could set a dangerous precedent, the sources also said, citing the Google executive.
The sources declined to be identified as the discussions were private.
In addition to Facebook, Twitter and Google, representatives from Snap Inc and popular Indian social media platform ShareChat also attended the meeting. Together, the companies have hundreds of millions of users in India.
Snap and ShareChat also expressed concern about a self-regulatory system, saying the issue needed far more consultation, including with civil society, the sources said.
Google said in a statement that it attended a preliminary meeting and was engaging with industry and government, adding that it was “exploring all options” for a “best possible solution.”
ShareChat and Facebook declined to comment. The other companies did not respond to Reuters requests for comment.
Self-regulatory bodies to control content in the social media industry are rare, although there have been instances of cooperation. In New Zealand, major tech companies have signed up to a code of practice aimed at reducing harmful content online.
Tension over social media content decisions has been a particularly vexing issue in India. Social media companies often receive takedown requests from the government or proactively remove content. Google’s YouTube, for example, removed 1.2 million videos in the first quarter of this year that violated its guidelines, the highest of any country in the world.
The Indian government is concerned that users who are unhappy with decisions to take down their content do not have a proper system to appeal such decisions and their only legal recourse is to go to court.
Twitter has faced backlash after it blocked accounts of influential Indians, including politicians, citing a violation of its policies. Twitter also locked horns with the Indian government last year when it refused to fully comply with orders to remove accounts the government said were spreading misinformation.
An early draft of the proposal for the self-regulatory body said the committee would have a retired judge or tech-savvy person as chair, along with six other people, including senior media company executives. social.
The panel’s decisions would be “binding in nature”, said the draft, which was seen by Reuters.
Western tech giants have for years been at odds with the Indian government, arguing that strict regulations are hurting their business and investment plans. The disagreements have also strained trade ties between New Delhi and Washington.
US industry lobby groups representing tech giants say a government-appointed review panel is raising concerns about how it might act independently if New Delhi controlled who sits on it.
The proposal from a group of government experts was open for public consultation until early July. No fixed date for implementation has been set.
(Reporting by Aditya Kalra in New Delhi; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)