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Wednesday, April 14th, 2021

Govt. releases new rules for social media, OTT platforms

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JNS: The Central Government on Thursday released a set of new guidelines to regulate social media, online streaming, and digital content platforms as it plans to introduce a change in legislation to assert more control over powerful Big Tech companies.

“Double standards of social media will not be acceptable”. We have framed these rules under the existing IT Act,” MeITY minister Ravi Shankar Prasad during a press conference announcing these rules.

“We trust the platforms to follow these regulations,” he said. “The focus of this guideline is on self-regulation.” The Rules will come in effect from the date of their publication in the gazette, except for the additional due diligence for significant social media intermediaries, which shall come in effect three months after publication of these Rules.

Social media companies and redressal
The central government wants social media companies to have a mechanism to address complaints from users. It wants social media intermediaries to have the following:-

  • 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.

The government says it is empowering the users of social media and other intermediaries. It wants companies to have a chief compliance officer for significant social media companies as well. The rules call for social media companies to publish a monthly compliance report as well.

Track originator of the message
The rules also call for tracking of the ‘first originator’ of a message and apply to a significant social media intermediary. It also wants the significant social media intermediary to have physical contact address in India published on its website or mobile app or both.

The government says while it is not interested in the content of the message, they wish to know who started the ‘mischief’. It wants social media platforms to disclose the first originator of the mischievous tweet or message as the case may be.

This will be required in matters related to the security and sovereignty of India, public order, or with regard to rape or any other sexually explicit material.

The rules also say that “users who wish to verify their accounts voluntarily shall be provided an appropriate mechanism to verify their accounts and provided with demonstrable and visible mark of verification.”

OTT content platforms
The government has called for a grievance redressal system for OTT platforms and digital portals as well. The government is also asking OTT platforms to self regulate and wants a mechanism for addressing any grievances.
While films have a censor board, OTT platforms will require to self-classify their movies and content based on age. The content will have to be classified based on age appropriateness. The government wants the OTT players to classify films based on 13+, 16+ and those for adults and clarified it is not bringing any kind of censorship to these platforms.
There has to be a mechanism of parental lock and ensuring compliance with the same. Platforms like Netflix already have an option for parental lock.

Three-level grievance redressal mechanism:
* A three-level grievance redressal mechanism has been established under the rules with two levels of self-regulation.

* Level I comprises the publisher and level II comprises the self-regulatory body, while the third level is the oversight mechanism under the ministry of information and broadcasting.

* The OTT platforms will need to employ a chief compliance officer, nodal contact person and a resident grievance officer under the new social media regulatory mechanism.

* The self-regulatory body would be headed by a retired judge of the Supreme Court or of a high court, or by a person of eminence from the relevant field, and can issue advisories to the publisher.

Key points

  • Government notifies Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021
  • Social media platforms welcome to do business in India but they need to follow the Constitution and laws of India
  • Social media platform can certainly be used for asking questions and criticise
  • Social media platforms have empowered ordinary users but they need accountability against its misuse and abuse
  • The new Rules empower ordinary users of social media, embodying a mechanism for redressal and timely resolution of their grievance
  • Rules about digital media and OTT focuses more on in house and self-regulation mechanism whereby a robust grievance redressal mechanism has been provided while upholding journalistic and creative freedom
  • The proposed framework is progressive, liberal and contemporaneous
  • It seeks to address peoples’ varied concerns while removing any misapprehension about curbing creativity and freedom of speech and expression
  • The guidelines have been framed keeping in mind the difference between viewership in a theatre and television as compared to watching it on Internet.

Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021

 

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