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Is it time to regulate Social media?

The government is ensuring that social media platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp and Telegram are free from harmful content such as fake news, child pornography, and cyber bullying.

Aruna Sundararajan, secretary, Telecom said that the government is planning to shift the accountability from a user to a social platform. She added that users are sometimes unaware and innocently retweet or forward content; so higher standards of accountability for platforms are needed.

She also said that the responsibility of the DoT is to ensure the security of the content being transmitted through the network. As per the telecom secretary, there are algorithms and artificial intelligence (AI), which these platforms already use, that can also be deployed to curb such content.

She further said that while regulation of social media apps rests with MeitY, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) ensures security of the content being transmitted through the network. DoT can make lawful interceptions in the interests of public safety but does not propose to block social apps, she said. It is up to the companies to give adequate precautionary measures.

The government is preparing to repeat its demand that WhatsApp put in place a technical solution to trace the origins of incendiary messages spread on its platform, something the Facebook-owned platform has resisted, maintaining that it goes against its privacy policy. The centre has been dissatisfied with the steps taken by WhatsApp to curb menaces such as fake news.

The statement comes a few days after the Ministry of electronics and IT (MeitY) is preparing to issue a third notice to WhatsApp asserting that it brings in ‘traceability’ of messages on its platform.

Amidst this, the American firm has maintained that doing so will impact end-to-end encryption and violate the privacy of users. WhatsApp said that this will weaken the privacy protections it provides.

WhatsApp uses Ejabberd (XMPP) server which facilitates instant message transfer between two or many users on a real-time basis. ERLANG is the programming language used to code WhatsApp. Code restructuring and some important changes were made to the Ejabberd server to achieve optimal server performance. Further, Erlang is agile to adapting to instant updates and hot fixes. This is what helps WhatsApp to quickly push the changes to live implementation without requiring restarts.

Whatsapp will be forced to devise ways to ensure that its content is not misused, and not merely passing on the blame to an erring user, who will be difficult to trace given the encryption. Sundararajan said the government wants Facebook, WhatApp, Instagram and others to treat Indian consumers on par with those overseas while it looks to bring in higher standards of accountability.