The power of social media has become so immense that they can change the perception and hence influence the election results in any democratic country.
It runs almost parallel to an elected government and is now more dangerous than traditional media which is also known to run vested stories and campaigns as pro or against the governments. 
The recent controversy in the social media domain where twitter marked a tweet by BJP spokesperson Sambut Patra as ‘ Manipulative media’ is a case in point. Twitter has failed to justify its methodology or algorithm by which it identifies a tweet as ‘Manipulative’. It only means that its decision making process is highly subjective and random. No doubt the police raided Twitter’s Gurgaon office and asked questions to officers concerned.
Then there is a new regulation that the social media companies have to follow from today. In february 2021  he Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeITY) has announced its draft Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, for social media platforms, OTT players & digital media , with significant recommendations including asking social media companies to give out the originator of a message or tweet as the case may be.
The government wants social media companies to have a mechanism to address complaints from users. It wants social media intermediaries to have the following:
Chief Compliance Officer who shall be responsible for ensuring compliance with the Act and Rules.
Nodal Contact Person for 24×7 coordination with law enforcement agencies.
Resident Grievance Officer who shall perform the functions mentioned under Grievance Redressal Mechanism.
All these officers have to be residents of India. The government says it is empowering the users of social media and other intermediaries. It wants companies to have a chief compliance officer for significant social media companies as well. The rules call for social media companies to publish a monthly compliance report as well.
“If there are complaints against the dignity of users, particularly woman that exploits their private parts of individuals or nudity or in sexual acts, impersonation, etc, you will be required to remove that within 24 hours,” the Meity minister Ravishankar Prasad said.
The rules also call for tracking of the ‘first originator’ of a message and apply to a significant social media intermediary. It also wants the significant social media intermediary to have a physical contact address in India published on its website or mobile app or both. For players like WhatsApp, which are end-to-end encrypted, this could mean they will be forced to break encryption in India in order to comply.
Most importantly, the government says while it is not interested in the content of the message, they wish to know who started the ‘mischief’. It wants social media platforms to disclose the first originator of the mischievous tweet or message as the case may be. This will be required in matters related to security and sovereignty of India, public order, or with regard to rape or any other sexually explicit material.
The ministry has also come up with rules for OTT platforms like Netflix, Amazon prime, Zee5 etc. However there the onus is on the companies for self regulation.
Finally there is the question of encryption technologies being used by the companies, transparency, privacy and location of servers which the government wants to know for any company and for good reasons.
The popularity and power of social media companies like whats app, Facebook, Twitter etc cannot be ignored by any elected democracy. Though they offer excellent platforms for communication, discussion , conveying and debating social, political, religious and miscellaneous issues they are also prone to be misused by users as well as companies. It was reported very recentl;y that the congress party is trying to hire 5 lakh volunteers to work for their social media campaigns.
Many organizations and enemy nations also work as ‘BOTS’ implying creating fake accounts in the name of ‘fake individuals’ which is also highly dangerous. Thus we have seen how Pakistan has tried to interfere in the Farmers protest by creating fake accounts or bots in the name of Indian sikhs and then targeting the government through provocative posts and influencing the mindset of the nation.
Overall we are of the opinion that social media do provide a communication media but are also fraught with dangers. It is always good to have local social media giants like what China has. To put so much power in the hands of foreign companies will be very foolish. The government must keep regulating the social media organizations and allow everyone a free and fair deal. However that does not mean that anyone can play with the sovereignty and security of the country which is always supreme and over and above anything else.
Dr. Asheesh Shah
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