SC seeks Centre’s response on plea for law to regulate access of minors to social media

The Supreme Court on Tuesday sought the response of the Central government on a petition praying for a suitable legal framework to regulate access of minors to social media platforms.

The petitioners, Skand Bajpai and Abhyudaya Mishra, who are two law students from Uttar Pradesh, said that minor children fall easy prey to online “predators” and are often manipulated and exploited on social media platforms.

“There exists no law in India to regulate minors’ access to social media. Since minors are prone to exploitation and harassment for not being able to comprehend the consequences of their actions on social media platforms, they need to be protected by law,” the petition, which was filed in July, stated.

Formulate an appropriate law regulating minor’s access to social media by laying down appropriate age limit for such access, the petitioners prayed.

A 3-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India, SA Bobde issued a notice to the Centre and the case is now likely to be heard again in December.

The age of attaining majority in India is 18 while most social media platforms allow individuals who are 13 years old or more to create accounts.

“As per the terms and conditions of Facebook, an individual aged not less than 13 years or any other lawful age as per law applicable can hold an account on their platforms. Individuals agree and provide consent for several conducts on such platforms. (But) the age of consent in India stands at the age of majority and, therefore, minor’s consent is void ab initio (from the beginning),” the plea said.

The petition also highlighted the issue of revenge porn and sought criminalisation of the same.

“There is a need to deter people from engaging in revenge porn. Several nation states have already expressly criminalised revenge porn. However, in India there exists no gender-neutral legislation on this and revenge porn acts as a tool for coercion, exploitation and extortion,” it was submitted.

The petitioners pointed out that sexually explicit content including private graphic information, rape videos etc are sold online through social media platforms. Accounts selling such content have mushroomed on social media and when one account gets reported or blocked, another is created to carry on the trade, the plea claimed.

“These accounts in this trade and business are largely public accounts open to all members of the social media community. A simple search of the keyword “pic seller” or other similar words, would land one in a pool of results all related to this trade,” the petition stated.

Further, such accounts also send ‘follow requests’ to random people on social media as a means of advertisement and promotion and also comment on the posts of public figures inviting people to subscribe to their illegal services, it added.

The petitioners submitted that individuals who have been affected by such leaked videos or photographs of their private life have many a time committed suicide or tried to inflict self-harm.

Bajpai and Mishra, therefore, prayed for an efficient mechanism to be put in place to investigate and punish persons behind such social media profiles. They also sought amendments to existing laws to increase the accountability of intermediaries.

“The Ministry of Education should work in collaboration with Ministry of Women and Child Development, Government of India, to upgrade the National Education Policy and inculcate adolescent sex education as a compulsory subject, further directing them to introduce a subject related to online safety, security and conduct,” the plea said.

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