A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) has been filed in the Madhya Pradesh High Court against social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and Instagram for allegedly hosting obscene, communal, unregulated and legally restricted content (Maatr Foundation v. Union of Indian and Ors).
The petition, filed by the NGO Maatr Foundation says that social media sites are perpetrating communal hatred, economic offences, hate crimes, allowing for the perpetuation of sexually abusive content, content against religions, gods and goddesses, and material defamation, among others, by different wings of the government and the armed forces.
“Due to non-interference of government, these platforms are the genesis of spreading communal hatred, riots, defamation of Government of India, judiciary, executive bodies, freedom fighters, defence forces as well as blasphemous content about several religions, Gods and Goddesses,” the petition says.
The plea adds that it not only creates a negative picture of India internationally but also creates an environment of havoc in the country.
The organization reports that, without limits, lascivious content targeting women are often open to minors.
The complainant contends that such material depicted women in a bad light and thereby violated their right to live with dignity.
Apart from this, it is alleged that most of the material hosted online violates intellectual property law provisions, online gaming and gambling laws, and data privacy.
The petitioner submits that the proliferation of such material is contrary to the provisions of the Indian Penal Code on criminal conspiracy, sedition, community disharmony and crimes against women.
It is further argued that under Article 19(2) of the Constitution, the control of content would constitute a legitimate restriction on freedom of expression because the content found in it is contrary to the right of women to life and to dignity.
The petitioner organization has told that there is no regulatory framework to control the content hosted on these sites. It is also claimed that the Centre had not replied to the request for information and action on the Centre’s previous representation and had termed such regulation as being outside its jurisdiction.
To this end, the petition seeks the Court’s guidance on the regulation of that content and also seeks the Court’s intervention in ensuring that a legal mechanism is put in place. The petition also proposes that an ad hoc committee be set up to frame guidelines on the subject.
The following relief is being pursued in the meantime:
- Removal of content that is illegal
- Framing of the company’s strategy of deleting such material within 24 hours of upload.
- Geological blocking by the powers given under Section 69 and 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, or offensive content.
Relevantly, the petition demands more redress from WhatsApp in regards to its new privacy policies as part of its argument that the apps facilitated privacy violations and data theft. The petition asks that WhatsApp be directed to urgently revoke its current privacy policies.
In October, the Supreme Court issued a notice in a PIL seeking action against social media users indulging and dealing with explicit or graphic content and rape videos online.