A week ago, Faisal Farooqui, CEO of MouthShut.com, a website which provides consumers to write user reviews on any products or service in India, filed a write petition before the Supreme Court to remove IT Rules (Intermediaries Guidelines) 2011 14, 19 and 21.
Farooqui said that there have been a ‘very small’ percentage of companies who wish to remove negative reviews from the website under the pretense of harmful speech. Since the intermediary guidelines are vague, it gives opportunity to companies that have been reported to give bad service/products to consumers who complain in websites such as MouthShut to threaten them with legal notices, complaints and even defamation cases. Although its obvious that if consumers don’t get what have been promised to get or been cheated, its naturally obvious they will give a negative feedback especially if a company is not willing to listen.
Unfortunately, there are companies who do not use this opportunity to fix the issue or take it as a feedback, rather manipulate the vague guidelines to legally threaten and try to restrict/gag an honest review.
Farooqui says in a post made in his website,”It is a privilege to be a citizen of a democracy like India where an ordinary citizen can appeal to a powerful court. Laws are meant to ensure the well-being of the nation – its people and institutions. Despite good intentions, IT Rules fall short of doing that. This law has the potential to weaken or, worse, entirely corrode the robust protection that the constitution of India offers to the freedom of speech.”
He also adds,”The Internet simply changes the mode of communication,” said Farooqui. “It does not alter the fundamental fact that behind those reviews are the views of Indian citizens who have previously been expressing themselves freely in face-to-face meetings, articles in newspapers, newsletters and magazines and other public forums. Curbing that right as applied to online reviews or attaching strings to it is a disservice to the right of self expression guaranteed by the Constitution.”
Websites like MouthShut.com aren’t the only who have been intimidated in such manner. There have many times where Indian forums were being trolled by corporates and other personnel, threatening and intimidating forum /websites owners using legal notices and complaints filed as an act of defamation. Unfortunately, because of the way the current guidelines are made, it gives a very good opportunity to those who don’t want to improve their service/products to gag users and site owners who provide such platform.
The Centre for Internet & Society in fact have an excellent and well detailed analysis of the Information Technology (Intermediaries’ Guidelines) Rules, 2011. On a personal note, reviews is something that companies should see it as a feedback and learn, rather than looking it as a marketing and PR perspective. There will be those who will say what is good and what is bad and what problems they faced during that time. Medianama also has a write-up expressing their opinion of how the present IT laws should be amended.
Its very important that consumer centric companies should behave like consumer centric companies to take it as a feedback and even better try to resolve the issue, or at the very least see if they can provide a resolution. There maybe few with a genuine intention to defame someone, but a mechanism should be made to prevent/solve rather, rather than having a blanket law which can harm those who have genuinely expressed the pros and cons.