New Delhi, March 2, 2021: On Thursday, the Narendra Modi government has announced new guidelines for social media like Facebook and Twitter as well as OTT platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video etc., requiring them to remove any content flagged by authorities within 36 hours and setting up a complaint redressal mechanism with an officer based within the country.
Electronics and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said in a press conference that the basic essence of ‘The Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021’ is “soft-touch oversight” mechanism to deal with issues such as persistent spread of fake news, abuse of these platforms to share morphed images of women and contents related to revenge porn or to settle corporate rivalries.
New guidelines for social media to identify creator of unlawful message
The new guidelines for social media also make it mandatory for platforms such as Twitter and WhatsApp to identify the originator of a message that authorities consider to be unlawful, anti-national and against the security and sovereignty of the country.
Facebook said the new regulations, which will take effect in three months, would be carefully studied.
New guidelines for social media and creative freedom
Think tanks and experts welcomed the new “well-intended” rules, stating that these bring clarity on responsibilities of intermediaries while they also added that in the current form, these guidelines could undermine the principles of open and accessible Internet and violate the right to privacy and free speech of users, particularly in the absence of robust data protection law.
They noted that these could also lead to an erosion of the ‘safe harbour’ protection given to intermediaries under Section 79 of the IT Act. The rules about digital media and OTT focus more on in-house and self-regulation mechanism whereby a robust grievance redressal mechanism has been provided while upholding journalistic and creative freedom.
Few guidelines issued for social media, OTT and digital media companies are:
Social media norms will be administered by the IT Ministry
- Intermediaries will have to remove content containing nudity, sexual act or impersonation including morphed images, within 24 hours of receipt of complaints.
- Intermediaries will have to appoint a grievance officer to deal with complaints, and this official has to acknowledge the complaint within 24 hours and resolve it within 15 days of receiving the complaint.
- An intermediary, after receiving court or government order, should not host or publish any information that is prohibited in relation to the interest of the sovereignty of India and public order.
- Two categories of social media intermediaries have been classified on the basis of user number – social media intermediaries and significant social media intermediaries.
- User threshold for determining significant social media intermediaries to be announced soon.
- Additional due diligence mandated for significant social media intermediaries.
- Significant social media intermediaries will have to appoint a chief compliance officer, a nodal contact person and a resident grievance officer. All three officials will have to reside in India.
- Significant social media intermediaries to publish a monthly compliance report on complaints received, action taken, and content removed proactively.
- Significant social media intermediary will need to have a physical contact address in India published on its website or mobile app or both.
- Messaging platforms asked to enable identification of the “first originator” of the information that undermines the sovereignty of India, security of the state, or public order. The intermediary will not be required to disclose the content of the message.
- Users who want to get their accounts verified voluntarily should be provided the mechanism to do so.
- In case a social media platform removes content on its own, it will have to provide prior intimation for the same to the user and explain reasons for such action. Users to be given opportunity to dispute the action taken by the intermediary.
- 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 that will come in effect 3 months after publication of the rules. 14. In case due diligence is not followed by an intermediary, safe harbour provisions will not apply to them.
OTT and digital media norms will be administered by I&B Ministry
- Code of Ethics prescribed for OTT platforms, online news and digital media entities.
- OTT platforms to self-classify content into five age based categories- U (Universal), U/A 7 , U/A 13 , U/A 16 , and A (Adult).
- Platforms need to implement parental locks for content classified as U/A 13 or higher, and deploy reliable age verification mechanisms for content classified as A.
- The publisher of online curated content will have to prominently display the classification rating specific to each programme together along with a content descriptor. This will enable users to make an informed decision before watching the programme.
- Publishers of news on digital media would be required to observe Norms of Journalistic Conduct of the Press Council of India, and the Programme Code under the Cable TV Networks Regulation Act to ensure a level-playing field between offline and digital media.
- A three-level grievance redressal mechanism has been established with different levels of self-regulation under the rules. These are self-regulation by the publishers; self-regulation by the self-regulating bodies of the publishers; and oversight mechanism.
- The publisher shall appoint a grievance redressal officer based in India, who will have to take a decision on complaints within 15 days.
- There may be one or more self-regulatory bodies of publishers. Such a body will have to be headed by a retired judge of the Supreme Court, a High Court or independent eminent person and have not more than six members.
- This body, which will have to register with the I&B Ministry, will oversee that the publisher adheres to the Code of Ethics and addresses those grievances not resolved within the stipulated timeframe.
- I&B Ministry will formulate an oversight mechanism and publish a charter for self-regulating bodies, including Codes of Practices.
- An inter-departmental committee will be established for hearing grievances.