The Madras High Court ruled on 21 September that social media companies cannot escape liability for the damage done to society through fake news or rumours spread through their platforms, and said they need to be held accountable for such misuse by users.
But Facebook, the owner of WhatsApp, has, refused to comply on the grounds that the messages are encrypted and even they have no access to them. Facebook has challenged the order and sought the transfer of the case along with similar cases pending in other High Courts to the Supreme Court.
The court, while considering the application has asked the federal government to give a definite timeline for framing statutory guidelines to curb the misuse of social media.
“Misuse of social media has become dangerous. Government should step in to deal with the issue at the earliest. Why should we worry about the internet? We will worry about our country. We can’t say we don’t have the technology to track the origins of online crimes. If originators have technology to do it, we have technology to counter it and track the originator,” the court said.
Supreme Court seeks Centre’s affidavit within three weeks for giving a definite timeline to framing statutory guidelines to curb misuse of social media. pic.twitter.com/ActlLePTxR— ANI (@ANI) September 24, 2019
Supreme Court says, we can't get away by saying that we don't have a technology to track originators of online crime, if there is a technology to do it, then there is a technology to stop it. https://t.co/wIhiNAk7nz— ANI (@ANI) September 24, 2019
Earlier this month, the top court asked the government to explain whether it is contemplating any move to link social media accounts with Adhaar.
The court told the federal government to strike a balance between individual privacy, the sovereignty of the state and the rights of individuals, while drafting regulations to curb fake news and defamatory content on social media.
“The government is the right authority as complex issues such as piracy are involved,” the court said.
The Supreme Court also suggested the government put an end to the practice of the free-for-all that exists on social media.
With nearly 400 million monthly active users, India is the largest global market for WhatsApp.
Due to the free and easy availability of the messaging platform, the app is said to have previously been exploited in India to spread provocative messages and misinformation.
In a bid to curb the spread of fake news, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology proposed changes to Section 79 of the Information Technology Act in December 2018.
The proposed amendments require companies to enable the tracing of the originators of information on various social media platforms if required by government agencies.
WhatsApp had said that the Indian government’s demand that it provide absolute traceability of messages was not possible, because it would undermine the security of user data.
After fake and propaganda messages on WhatsApp led to incidents of mob lynching and other internal security issues in India, Facebook in July provided a limited text forwarding facility to just five chats at a time in India, along with a “forwarded” tag for messages sent from other groups and chats.