The IT Rules of 2021, mandate big technology companies or the SSMIs to publish a monthly compliance report which includes the details of complaints from users via grievance mechanism and action taken on them. Data from the last 24 months indicates that the reasons for which these grievances are filed vary from platform to platform.
For more than a decade, social media platforms have gained mainstream prominence in sharing and dissemination of information. The significant reach of various social media platforms is found to have a bearing on shaping public discourse. There have been calls from various sections of society to set up controls and have accountability norms for such platforms through greater transparency.
The Information Technology Rules 2011 were replaced with, Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 (IT Rules, 2021) in an effort to ensure greater transparency from the big technology platforms, referred to as Social Media Intermediaries (SMIs) in these rules.
IT Rules, 2021 requires additional due diligence to be observed by SSMIs
The IT Rules, 2021 are primarily aimed at placing additional obligations on these Social Media Platforms, referred to as Social Media Intermediaries (SMIs) to ensure an open, safe, and trusted internet.
SMI is defined as an intermediary which primarily or solely enables online interaction between two or more users and allows them to create, upload, share, disseminate, modify, or access information using its services.
Two important components of IT Rules, 2021 are:
- Due diligence by an intermediary
- Grievance redressal mechanism
The IT Rules, 2021 lay out clear guidelines on the due diligence to be followed while discharging their duties, including – prominently publishing user agreements, privacy policies, etc. on their website, not displaying or hosting objectionable or defamatory content, copyright or trademark infringes, etc. These rules required the intermediary to have a Grievance redressal mechanism in place.
Any complaint relating to the content on the social media platform can be lodged and the same needs to be acknowledged within 24 hours and disposed within 15 days. Another important aspect of IT Rules 2021 is the condition of additional due diligence to be performed by SSMIs or Significant Social Media Intermediaries. Any SMI with more than 50 lakh registered users in India is considered an SSMI.
One of the important rules as part of this additional due diligence performed by SSMIs is Rule 4(1). SSMIs are required to publish a monthly compliance report which includes the details of complaints from users via grievance mechanism and action taken on them, as well as information related to any proactive monitoring efforts under the IT Rules.
There are 7 SSMIs that publish these monthly reports – WhatsApp, Google, Twitter, Meta, Snapchat, ShareChat, & Koo. Reports published by Meta include information for both Facebook and Instagram. Consolidated datasets of the information available in these monthly compliance reports by SSMIs are available on Dataful.
In this story, we look at the trends in grievances submitted by the users and the action taken across various SSMIs. This is the first of two-part series, in which we cover the trends in grievances and complaints received by WhatsApp, Twitter, Koo & Google.
10-fold increase in the number of reports received by WhatsApp
WhatsApp is the most popular messaging app in India. It is specifically built for private messaging and is used mostly to communicate with people we already know. Grievances on WhatsApp are received through two methods – e-mails sent to the grievance officer regarding violations of WhatsApp terms of service, questions about accounts, etc., and e-mails sent to the India Grievance Officer via post.
During May 2023, a total of 3912 grievances were received. Comparatively, a total of 4,720 and 4,377 grievance reports were received in March & April 2023 respectively. These three months have received the greatest number of grievances since compliance under these rules began in May 2021, and the first monthly compliance report was published by WhatsApp. In fact, the monthly average number of grievances reported in these three recent months is 10-fold the number of grievances reported in the initial months. The number of grievances in each of the last six months (December 2022 to May 2023) has been more than 1000.
Most of the reports received were related to the ‘Appeal of Account Ban’. In May 2023, 89% of the grievances were Ban related to Appeals. So is the case in the earlier months as well, where-in most of the grievances received were appeals related to bans. Account support, Product Support, and Safety were the other reasons for which grievances were reported.
75% of the Grievances received by Twitter are related to Abuse and Hateful Conduct
As per the monthly transparency reports submitted by Twitter, around 12.8 thousand grievances were received for the period June 2021 to May 2023. Unlike in the case of WhatsApp, there is a fall in the number of grievances received in recent months. The greatest number of grievances received by Twitter was in May 2022, when more than 1.5 thousand grievances were received. However, since then, there has been a fall in the number of grievances reported to Twitter.
Out of the total grievances reported to Twitter, the greatest proportion are related to Abuse/Harassment. Since June 2021, around 61% of grievances filed with Twitter were related to Abuse/Harassment. With 14% of the total grievances received, ‘Hateful Conduct’ is the second highest reason for which grievances were received by Twitter.
One of the main reasons for the higher number of grievances received in the initial months and the recent reduction in the numbers can be attributed to the fall in the number of grievances related to ‘Abuse & Harassment’.
Koo, which is an India-based Microblogging and Social Networking platform akin to Twitter had more than 1.28 lakh Koos reported during this period. The greatest number of reported Koos in a month was in November 2022 when more than 14 thousand Koos were reported. Koo does not provide details of the reason why a particular Koo was reported by the community.
95% of the complaints received by Google were related to Copyrights.
Since April 2021, Google has received more than 8.32 lakh complaints. Monthly trends do not indicate any specific variation in the number of complaints received. The greatest number of complaints in a month was in December 2022 when 42.8 thousand complaints were received. Since then, there is a decline in the number of complaints. On average, the number of complaints in recent months is lesser than the general average of complaints received in the earlier months. An overwhelming 95% of the total complaints received by Google were related to Copyrights. The next highest number of complaints are related to Trademarks.
In the second part of the series, we will look at the trends in Facebook & Instagram which are part of Meta along with Snapchat & ShareChat. We also will review the trends relating to the banning of accounts and proactive action taken by these SSMIs.