Making the social media liable as an intermediary

Ameen Jauhar writes:

One school of thought, having found some actual translation into local laws, is holding these social media companies more stringently responsible for the information they allow to flow on their platforms after a specific period of time, despite takedown notices from the appropriate authorities. Countries are enacting specific legislation which assigns a higher degree of responsibility on social media companies to be more innovative and prudent in their self-regulation, failing which penalties can be imposed.

In a landmark judgment in the latter half of the nineteenth century, the doctrine of strict liability was crafted. Rylands v. Fletcher is an English case practically featuring in almost every book of Tort Law, and was the seminal judgment which established the elements of a more stringent form of liability. The case talked about “a dangerous thing” which is brought to one’s land, and should that thing escape and cause harm, the person bringing and keeping it would be strictly liable, despite taking the necessary precautions. Act of god, third party actions, and contributory negligence were limited exceptions to this higher degree of liability.

The argument for the intermediary liability assumes importance from the increasing polarisation and calls for “break up” of the corporations. I am not sure how the local laws will be framed to tackle the growing problem, but it is best left to the policy makers to decide on the delicate balancing act. I still remain on the fence when it comes to any obvious advantage- patient advocacy, for example, is a purely western construct. Having everyone on the same platform invariably brings in additional issues of “self-regulation” and drawing lines in sand. I have highlighted the pertinent issues because everything is tied up to the idea of centralised data collection- healthcare won’t be immune from these problems as and when the AI goes “mainstream”. We are (luckily) in the fringe case scenarios where some “university” department “tweets” about the “breakthroughs in medicine” without a potential impact beyond the optics. However, eventually, the ugly duckling does become the beautiful swan- we need to ensure that it stays free.

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