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Data: Grievance Numbers Reported by SSMIs in Their Compliance Reports Do Not Indicate Any Specific Trend


The Government notified The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 in which it made it mandatory for Significant Social Media Intermediaries (SSMIs) to publish monthly compliance reports that contained data on multiple items including grievances & action taken. The data reported by the SSMIs do not indicate any specific trend.

Use of social media as a mode of communication is a routine affair in the digital world we live in. Social media has grown exponentially in the last decade, both globally and in India so much so that it has become almost inevitable, if not avoidable. Its usage in India has also grown significantly over the years According to an estimate of Forbes, there are about 398 million users of social media in India as of 2023, who are of age 18 and above. The same estimate also says that 67.5% of all internet users in India use at least one social media platform. An average Indian person is estimated to spend about 145 minutes every day on social media, which is about 15% of the normal non-sleeping active time (16 hours) of an individual in a day. 

However, along with several positive outcomes and advantages of using social media, the last decade has also seen a negative fallout, such as the spread of hateful content, violent content, adult content, and misinformation, among several others. The harmful effects of these are widely acknowledged which affect both individuals and society. 

The Government of India has launched a fact-checking unit which as per the objectives is to address misinformation about the government. The Press Information Bureau (PIB) has a dedicated fact checking unit which takes up certain types of claims and publishes fact-checking reports. Similarly, in the wake of upcoming general elections, the Election Commission of India (ECI) has come up with a dedicated portal called “Myth Vs Reality” to check the spread of misinformation about elections and to provide correct information to the people.

Along with these, in the year 2021, the Government of India notified The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 (Digital Media Rules), which made it mandatory for Significant Social Media Intermediaries (SSMIs) to publish every month the information containing the details of different types of complaints/grievances that they received from their subscribers and the action taken against them, including details of proactive action taken by them. 

Against this backdrop, we look at the trends number and the types of grievances received by some of the SSMIs. Additionally, we also analyse if there was any increase in the number of grievances or actions taken during elections. 


The data has been sourced from the Dataful collection of datasets on the compliance reports submitted by the SSMIs. 

Lack of Uniformity in Grievance Categorization and Action Taken

Though the Digital Media Rules have made it mandatory for SSMIs to publish monthly data about grievances, it has, however, not prescribed any specific categorization or format in which they are to publish the data. Therefore, as of date, each SSMI publishes the data and the compliance reports in its own desired format. This has led to a lack of uniformity. Part of this is understandable because of the differences in the nature of platforms, and the type of actions taken. 

For example, WhatsApp categorizes grievances/complaints it has received by categories such as Account Support, Ban Appeal, Product Support, etc. It does not distinguish grievances by their nature such as Violence, hate speech, etc. Some of the other SSMIs such as Twitter, Facebook, Google, etc. categorize the number of grievances received by their nature such as Abuse/Harassment, Account Hacked, etc. Even with these categories, there is no standardization. For instance, Twitter (X) distinguishes adult sexual content as Sensitive Adult Content, and Child Sexual Exploitation whereas, Facebook and ShareChat categorize the same grievance as Sexually Explicit Content, Content showing me in Nudity/Partial Nudity or in a Sexual Act and Inappropriate or Abusive Content, etc., without specifying whether it includes sexual content including children, etc. Therefore, even similar type of grievances is categorized and grouped at the discretion of the SSMIs.   

Further, each of the SSMIs has its own terms for reporting the types of action taken on grievances received. For example, Facebook and Instagram categorize Action taken as ‘Content Actioned’, which is defined as including “removing a piece of content from Facebook or Instagram or covering photos or videos that may be disturbing to some audiences with a warning.” The definition does not distinguish between the number of accounts from which a piece of content has been removed and the number of accounts from which photos or videos have been covered. Similarly, WhatsApp has its own categorization. It stipulates action taken as ‘Accounts Actioned’, which is defined as “either banning an account or a previously banned account being restored as a result of the complaint”. Therefore, it is not clear how many accounts each month have been banned and how many have been restored under the category of Number of Accounts Actioned. Similarly, the other SSMIs have their own categorization and definition of action taken on the grievances received by them. 

Therefore, as of date, the data reported by SSMIs on the types of grievances received and action taken is not uniform across all the SSMIs. In the absence of the same, it is not possible to analyse which specific types of grievances have been reported, and which ones have increased or decreased during specific periods, among others. These have to be considered while reading the numbers. 

Data shows increase in the Number of Grievances

As mentioned, each of the SSMIs reports monthly on the number of grievances received and action taken, though there are differences in categorization and grouping. The analysis of the data published by some of the SSMIs shows an increase in the total grievances reported over the years.

The data shows that the total number of grievances received by Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, and Google have increased from 2 to 190, 5 to 222, 4 to 104, 2 to 18 and 510 to 714 thousand, respectively between 2021 & 2023. 

Number of reported grievances vary across Years and SSMIs

As mentioned, the types of grievances which are reported across the SSMIs vary from one SSMI to another. 

As per the data, the major grievance reported on Instagram in the year 2021 was the Hacking of Accounts, which accounted for 1161. This is followed by a Fake Profile with 492 complaints. However, in 2022, the Fake Profile grievances have risen to 29,447 while Account hacking grievances have stood at 6,518. In 2023, both grievances were overtaken by the number of Inappropriate/Abusive Content and Bullying/Harassment grievances which stood at 54,269 and 46,312 respectively. In the same year, the Hacking of Accounts and Fake Profile grievances stood at 29,715 and 31,555, respectively. 

In the case of Facebook, the number of grievances related to Account Hacking was highest in 2021 with 1,611 followed by undefined ‘Other issues’ with 1,133. The same pattern was also visible in 2022. But, in 2023, Bullying/Harassment marked the highest with 72,221 grievances, followed by Inappropriate/Abusive Content with 63,295 grievances. In the same year, the Hacking of Accounts and Fake Profile grievances stood at 29,715 and 31,555, respectively.

On Twitter (X), Abuse/Harassment stood as the highest reported across all the years from 2021 to 2023. However, the number of other types of grievances varied each year. In 2021, the grievance of Impersonation stood next to Abuse/Harassment with 674 grievances. This is followed by Defamation and IP infringement with 442 and 347 grievances, respectively. In 2022 and 2023, the Hateful Conduct grievances were second highest with 1,450 and 4,935 respectively. 

Numbers reported by Google present a different picture. Across all the years, the grievance of Copyright stood as the highest with 271548, 366849 and 331811 grievances respectively in the years 2021, 2022 and 2023. This is because Google data includes YouTube grievances. The grievance of Defamation was next with 3,066 grievances in 2021. However, in 2022 and 2023, the grievance of Trademark occupied the second position with 8,864 and 15,479 respectively. 

Therefore, the types of grievances received by SSMIs have varied by each year and from one SSMI to another. 

Grievances of Account Hacking, Fake Profile and Losing Access to Page managed by Individual saw increase in Facebook during the 2023 Assembly Elections  

We also looked at the total number of grievances received each month by major SSMIs in the year 2023 to understand whether the number of grievances increased during November and December 2023, when the Assembly Elections of 5 States were held compared to other months. 

As per the data, there was no considerable increase in the number of grievances received by SSMIs such as Google, WhatsApp, Instagram, and Twitter during this period. In January 2023, Google received 77,560 grievances and in May 2023, it was 56,602. In October 2023, it rose to 89,028 grievances and then reduced to 39,360 and 43,480 in the months of November and December 2023, respectively. Similarly, there was no noticeable increase in the number of grievances raised with WhatsApp, Instagram, and Twitter also, during November and December 2023, compared to other months of the year. 

However, the data showed a significant increase in the number of grievances received by Facebook during December 2023 compared to other months. As per the data, in January 2023, Facebook received 700 grievances and in July 2023, it was 28,012. In October, November, and December 2023 however, it received 25920, 21449 and 44332 grievances, respectively. In December 2023, which is when election results were announced, Facebook received a greater number of grievances compared to other months. During the same month, the types of grievances that showed an increase compared to other months were Account Hacking, Fake Profiles that is pretending to be Me and Losing Access to a Page or Group managed by Me. As the data in the table below indicates, the increase in these types of grievances may not be attributable to the elections since the increase in numbers was significant in December 2023 when the elections were complete. 

To summarize, the numbers do not indicate any specific trend with respect to grievances received by the SSMIs. This could also be because of the type of categorization and grouping. 


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