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Parliamentary Committee on IT summons Google, FB on 29 June

The meeting has been called to hear their views on safeguarding citizens’ rights and prevention of misuse of social online news media platforms.

SNS | New Delhi |

Parliament Standing Committee on Information Technology (I&T) has issued summons to Facebook India and Google India asking them to send their representatives to appear before it on Tuesday to hear their views on safeguarding citizens’ rights and prevention of misuse of social online news media platforms.

The meeting will be held from 4 p.m. onwards at Main Committee Room, Parliament House Annexe in presence of committee members, officials of Ministry of I&T, and the representatives of Facebook and Google. Senior Congress leader Lok Sabha member Shashi Tharoor is the Chairman of the committee, which includes 31 members — 21 from the Lok Sabha and 10 from Rajya Sabha.

The meeting schedule mentions that the committee is “to hear the views of representatives of Facebook India and Google India on the subject Safeguarding citizens’ rights and prevention of misuse of social online news media platforms including special emphasis on women security in the digital space”.

In its next sitting on July 6, representatives of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology will submit evidence related to the subject before the committee.

There have been more than two similar meetings between the committee and the representatives of social media sites, including Facebook, Google, and Twitter.

In a recent one, the committee had called Twitter to appear before it on June 18 to give representation on how to prevent misuse of social media and online news. On June 20, India’s permanent mission at the United Nations had clarified that India’s new IT rules are “designed to empower ordinary users of social media” and that they were finalized after the government held broad consultations with civil society and other stakeholders in 2018.

The Central government has framed the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 (‘new IT Rules’) and notified the same on February 25 this year. The Rules came into effect on May 26.

In January this year, the committee had issued summons to officials of Facebook and Twitter to question them over misuse of the social media or online news platforms. The committee has also questioned Facebook’s India head Ajit Mohan over the issue of political bias on the social media platform.

The allegations of a Facebook bias towards the BJP were reported in The Wall Street Journal in August 2020 and had claimed that Ankhi Das, the platform’s then India Policy Head had opposed the idea of removing hate posts by BJP leaders, warning that this could hamper their “commercial interests”.

Das has now quit Facebook.

Taking cognizance of misuse of social networking sites, the National Commission For Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) on June 14 sought a report from Twitter, WhatsApp, Facebook, and Telegram regarding posts on these social networking sites offering illegal adoption of children orphaned amid ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

The apex child rights body has also directed these four social media entities to submit their report within 10 days, and also warned them to take strict action against them if they fail to report such posts.

In a letter written to these social networking sites, the NCPCR suggested if any person posts any such content, an immediate report should be sent to the commission or law enforcement authorities or state commission with a detailed IP address of the user.