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Centre announces rules to regulate social media, OTT platforms

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The Centre on Thursday released new rules to regulate the content on social media, online streaming and digital content platforms. The government has said that social media giants are welcome to do business in India, but warned them that their double-standard policies will not be acceptable in India.

The government has notified the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021. The development comes amidst the growing concerns around lack of transparency, accountability and rights of users related to digital media.

Union information technology minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said that the new rules specify a Code of Ethics and a three-tier grievance redressal mechanism for OTT platforms and news sites. The minister said that the new Rules will empower social media users.

Salient features of the new Rules

Guidelines related to social media to be administered by the Ministry of Electronics and IT:

  • Due diligence to be followed by intermediaries: The Rules prescribe due diligence that must be followed by intermediaries, including social media intermediaries. In case, due diligence is not followed by the intermediary, safe harbour provisions will not apply to them.
  • Grievance redressal mechanism: The Rules seek to empower the users by mandating the intermediaries, including social media intermediaries, to establish a grievance redressal mechanism for receiving resolving complaints from the users or victims. Intermediaries shall appoint a Grievance Officer to deal with such complaints and share the name and contact details of such officer. The grievance Officer shall acknowledge the complaint within 24 hours and resolve it within fifteen days from its receipt.
  • Ensuring online safety and dignity of users, especially women users: Intermediaries shall remove or disable access within 24 hours of receipt of complaints of contents that exposes the private areas of individuals, show such individuals in full or partial nudity or in a sexual act or is in the nature of impersonation including morphed images, etc. Such a complaint can be filed either by the individual or by any other person on his/her behalf.
  • Two categories of social media intermediaries: To encourage innovations and enable the growth of new social media intermediaries without subjecting smaller platforms to significant compliance requirements, the Rules make a distinction between social media intermediaries and significant social media intermediaries. This distinction is based on the number of users on the social media platform. The government is empowered to notify the threshold of the user base that will distinguish between social media intermediaries and significant social media intermediaries. The Rules require the significant social media intermediaries to follow certain additional due diligence.
  • Removal of unlawful information: An intermediary upon receiving actual knowledge in the form of an order by a court or being notified by the Appropriate Govt. or its agencies through authorized officer should not host or publish any information which is prohibited under any law in relation to the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, public order, friendly relations with foreign countries, etc.

Guidelines for significant social media intermediaries

Following are the additional norms to be followed by significant social media intermediaries:

  • Appoint a Chief Compliance Officer who shall be responsible for ensuring compliance with the Act and Rules. Such a person should be a resident in India.
  • Appoint a Nodal Contact Person for 24×7 coordination with law enforcement agencies. Such a person shall be a resident in India.
  • Appoint a Resident Grievance Officer who shall perform the functions mentioned under Grievance Redressal Mechanism. Such a person shall be a resident in India.
  • Publish a monthly compliance report mentioning the details of complaints received and action taken on the complaints as well as details of contents removed proactively by the significant social media intermediary.
  • Significant social media intermediaries providing services primarily in the nature of messaging shall enable identification of the first originator of the information that is required only for the purposes of prevention, detection, investigation, prosecution or punishment of an offence related to sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, or public order or of incitement to an offence relating to the above or in relation with rape, sexually explicit material or child sexual abuse material punishable with imprisonment for a term of not less than five years. The intermediary shall not be required to disclose the contents of any message or any other information to the first originator.
  • Significant social media intermediary shall have a physical contact address in India published on its website or mobile app or both.
  • Voluntary User Verification Mechanism: Users who wish to verify their accounts voluntarily shall be provided an appropriate mechanism to verify their accounts and provided with a demonstrable and visible mark of verification.
  • Giving Users An Opportunity to Be Heard: In cases where significant social media intermediaries removes or disables access to any information on their own accord, then a prior intimation for the same shall be communicated to the user who has shared that information with a notice explaining the grounds and reasons for such action. Users must be provided an adequate and reasonable opportunity to dispute the action taken by the intermediary.

Social media users

All major social media platforms have a considerable userbase in India and the country is a major source of revenue for these platforms. According to a statement by the Union government, there are 53 crore WhatsApp users in India, 44.8 crore YouTube users, 41 crore Facebook users, 21 crore Instagram users and 1.75 crore Twitter users.

 

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