Guidelines on permanent suspension of social media accounts will come in future: Central government to Delhi High Court

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The Central government informed the Delhi High Court on Wednesday that guidelines regarding de-platforming or permanent banning of users by social media platforms will come “at some point of time in the future” and will be prospective in nature.

An oral submission was made to this effect by Central Government Standing Counsel (CGSC) Kirtiman Singh before Justice Yashwant Varma.

“We have checked up with the government, the amendment will take place at some point of time, but it will be prospective,” Singh said.

Before going into the main issues of the matter, Justice Varma wanted to know whether the Centre was in the process of implementing any regulatory mechanism, as the government’s policies would have an impact on the pleas before it.

“We are currently deciding the question whether writ petitions against these social media companies are maintainable… We want to understand whether there is any regulatory mechanism that they (Centre) want to implement that might have an impact on this,” the judge said.

After Singh revealed that there is clarity on when the guidelines will come, counsel appearing for users of social media handles which have been banned pressed for hearing.

Justice Varma then said that if the Centre does not make its stand clear by the next date of hearing, the Court would go into the matter and decide it.

The case has now been listed for further consideration on December 19.

The Court was dealing with a batch of matters related to the suspension of social media accounts, including petitions filed by Senior Advocate Sanjay Hegde as well as satirical accounts like Wokeflix.

The Bench is effectively examining whether a writ lies against social media intermediaries like Twitter and others and if they fall under the term ‘State’ under Article 12 of the Indian Constitution.

In August, the Court had asked the Centre whether it was contemplating any regulatory measures to govern the issue of banning of Indian citizens from social media platforms.

Justice Varma had said that if the government comes up with these guidelines while the Court is deciding the matter, then the whole exercise will have to be done again.

Earlier, the Centre had told the High Court that action taken by social media platforms against accounts should be proportionate to the offending content, and that taking down the account should be the last resort.

In an affidavit, it said further said that only when most of the posts and content are unlawful, should social media companies take down the account.

Social media platforms like Twitter have argued that no writ lies against them, as they are private entities and that when a user signs up, they enter into a contract with them.

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