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Parliament proceedings | Government welcomes dissent on social media, says Ravi Shankar Prasad

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‘Issue is not of use of social media, it is of abuse and misuse of social media’.

Union Communications and Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said on Thursday that climate activist Disha Ravi’s arrest was based on law and order and it is under judicial process. He added that the House should consider “should some people abuse social media internationally to defame India to promote secessionism.”

Replying to a question by Congress member G.C. Chandrashekhar regarding Ms. Ravi’s arrest for editing a ‘toolkit’ about the farmers’ protest, Mr. Prasad said, “India is proud to have nearly 140 crore social media users. LinkedIn, WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook are free to do business in India. They have empowered ordinary Indians. The government welcomes dissent. The issue is not of use of social media, the issue is of abuse and misuse of social media…Internet is a powerful invention of human mind, but it should not become the monopoly of few. And we have taken a position, any attempt to create imperialism of Internet by few companies is not acceptable.”

He said the government welcomes criticism on social media, but “some people who sermonise and do not provide their identity, then these guidelines ensure that social media companies will ask them to voluntarily verify their identities.”

The Ministry released the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 under the Act that specifies the due diligence to be followed by all the intermediaries including the social media intermediaries.

Replying to a supplementary question, he said there are cases where the dignity of a woman is sought to be compromised by displaying her nude or morphed photo.

In such cases, the Minister said, the guidelines are clear that the content should be removed within 36 hours.

“The guideline is very clear that you have to remove that (content) within 36 hours, only if it relates to the unity and integrity of India, safety and security of India, public order, and most importantly, the dignity of the woman…,” he said.

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As far as content creation is concerned, Mr. Prasad said, “We don’t wish to interfere so that is is the job of the users of social media as to what there is to say.”

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He also said his department works in close coordination with the Election Commission.

“The Election Commission has set up a dedicated cell to weed out fake news, fake media designed to influence (voters),” he said, adding that Cambridge Analytica has been banned and a CBI probe is going on against the UK-based data analytics firm.

For maintaining the purity of India’s electoral process, the government is working in close coordination with the Election Commission to ensure that fake news do not influence elections, Mr. Prasad said.

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