A public interest litigation (PIL) has been filed in the Madhya Pradesh High Court against Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, and Instagram for hosting obscene, communal, unregulated and legally restricted content (Maatr Foundation v. Union of Indian and Ors).
The petition, filed by NGO Maatr Foundation, contends that the social media platforms are perpetrating communal hatred, hate crimes economic offences, allowing the perpetuation of sexually offensive content, content against religions, Gods and Goddesses, and material defamatory of various wings of the government and the Armed Forces, among others.
“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 states.
It is not only creating a negative image of India globally but also creating an atmosphere of havoc in the country, the plea adds.
The organisation states that lascivious content objectifying women is also available to minors, without any restrictions.
Such content was portraying women in a bad light thereby violating their right to live with dignity, the petitioner submits.
Apart from this, much of the content hosted online violates provisions of intellectual property law, regulations on online betting and gambling, and data privacy, it is alleged.
The petitioner argues that the proliferation of such content violates the provisions of the Indian Penal Code relating to criminal conspiracy, sedition, creating disharmony between communities, and crimes against women. It is also argued that the continued hosting of offensive content violates the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986 and the Information Technology Act and Rules, particularly on the responsibility of intermediaries for the content hosted.
It is further asserted that regulation of content would constitute a reasonable restriction on free speech in terms of Article 19(2) of the Constitution, since the content hosted is violative of a woman’s right to life, as well as dignity.
The petitioner organisation avers that there is no regulatory mechanism to keep a check on content hosted on these platforms. It is also submitted that the Centre had not responded to its earlier representation seeking information and action on the same and had termed such regulation as being outside its jurisdiction.
To this end, the petition seeks guidelines from the Court to regulate such content, and seeks the intervention of the Court in ensuring that a legal mechanism is set in place. The petition also suggests the setting up of an ad hoc committee to frame guidelines on the subject.
In the interim, the following reliefs are sought:
- Removal of illegal content
- Framing of policy by the companies to remove such content within 24 hours of uploading
- Geological blocking of offensive content by powers granted under Section 69 and 69A of Information Technology Act, 2000
The plea has been filed through advocates Amay Bajaj, Ashi Vaidya, Mansi Dubey, Paritosh Shrivastava and Purvi Khandelwal.
In October, the Supreme Court issued notice in a PIL seeking action against social media users indulging and dealing with explicit or graphic content and rape videos online.