INDIA.Mumbai: The Union Government on Thursday announced new rules to curb misuse of social media platforms, as it mandated firms to appoint grievance officers, disclose the first originator of the mischievous information and remove, within 24 hours, content depicting nudity or morphed pictures of women.
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Concerns have been raised about rampant abuse of social media platforms and spread of fake news and the government is bringing in a “soft touch” regulation, IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said while announcing the new guidelines.
The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 have been framed in exercise of powers under section 87 (2) of the Information Technology Act, 2000 and in supersession of the earlier Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines) Rules 2011.
As per new guidelines, social media intermediaries have to appoint the Grievance Redressal Officer, who shall register complaints within 24 hours. The officer must be resident in India. The social media platforms will be required to file a monthly compliance report… The companies should remove the content as early as possible, but no later than 36 hours, after a government or legal order. They must also assist in investigations or other cyber security-related incidents within 72 hours of a request. Further, if a post depicts an individual in any sexual act or conduct, then companies must disable or remove such content within a day of receiving a complaint, the rules added. “A publisher shall take into consideration India’s multi-racial and multi-religious context and exercise due caution and discretion when featuring the activities, beliefs, practices, or views of any racial or religious group,” the draft rules said.
Digital Media Ethics Code
Referring to films and other entertainment, including Web-based serials, the draft rules called for a “classification rating” to describe the content and advise discretion. Notified under section 87 of IT Act, Part- II of these Rules shall be administered by the Ministry of Electronics and IT(MEITY), while Part-III relating to Code of Ethics and procedure and safeguards about digital media shall be administered by the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I & B Ministry). Part-III of the Rules prescribes the Code of Ethics for online news, OTT platforms, and digital media.
Self-Classification of Content
Self-Classification of Content: The OTT platforms, called the publishers of online curated content in the rules, would self-classify the content into five age-based categories- U (Universal), U/A 7+, U/A 13+, U/A 16+, and A (Adult). Platforms would be required to implement parental locks for content classified as U/A 13+ or higher and reliable age verification mechanisms for content classified as “A”. The publisher of online curated content shall prominently display the classification rating specific to each content or program together with a content descriptor informing the user about the nature of the content, and advising on viewer description (if applicable) at the beginning of every program enabling the user to make an informed decision, before watching the program.
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 Television Networks Regulation Act thereby providing a level playing field between the offline (Print, TV) and digital media.
A three-level grievance redressal mechanism
A three-level grievance redressal mechanism has been established under the rules with different levels of self-regulation: Level-I: Self-regulation by the publishers, Level-II: Self-regulation by the self-regulating bodies of the publishers, and Level-III: Oversight mechanism. The Publisher shall appoint a Grievance Redressal Officer based in India who shall be responsible for the redressal of grievances. The officer shall decide on every grievance received within 15 days.
Self-Regulatory Body for Digital platforms
Self-Regulatory Body: There may be one or more self-regulatory bodies of publishers. Such a body shall be headed by a retired judge of the Supreme Court, a High Court, or independent eminent person and have not more than six members. Such a body will have to register with the I & B ministry. This body will oversee the adherence by the publisher to the Code of Ethics and address grievances that have not to be been resolved by the publisher within 15 days. The I &B Ministry shall formulate an oversight mechanism. It shall publish a charter for self-regulating bodies, including Codes of Practices. Besides, it shall establish an Inter-Departmental Committee for hearing grievances.
The Digital India program
The Digital India program has now become a movement that is empowering common Indians with the power of technology. Roughly the user base of major social media platforms in India is: WhatsApp users: 53 Crore, YouTube users: 44.8 Crore, Facebook users: 41 Crore, Instagram users: 21 Crore and Twitter users: 1.75 Crore.
The social media intermediaries and significant social media
The rules make a distinction between social media intermediaries and significant social media intermediaries. The Government is empowered to notify the threshold of the user base that will distinguish between social media intermediaries and significant social media intermediaries, based on the number of users. 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 an authorized officer should not host or publish any information which is prohibited under any law about the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, public order, friendly relations with foreign countries, etc.
The new guidelines were framed after the I & B, the ministry held consultations in Delhi, Mumbai, and Chennai over the last one and half years wherein OTT players were urged to develop a “self-regulatory mechanism”. The Government also studied the models in other countries including Singapore, Australia, the EU, and the UK, and gathered that most of them either have an institutional mechanism to regulate digital content or are in the process of setting up one.
The rationale for new guidelines
The Supreme Court in suo-moto writ petition (Prajjawala case) vide order dated December 11, 2018, had observed that the Government of India may frame necessary guidelines to eliminate child pornography, rape and gang rape imageries, videos, and sites in content hosting platforms and other applications. Besides the apex court vide order dated September 24, 2019, had directed the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology to appraise the timeline in respect of completing the process of notifying the new rules.
The Ad-hoc committee of the Rajya Sabha had laid its report in the house on February 03, 2020, after studying the alarming issue of pornography on social media and its effect on children and society as a whole and recommended for enabling identification of the first originator of such contents.
The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY) prepared draft Rules and invited public comments on December 24, 2018. It received 171 comments from individuals, civil society, industry associations, and organizations. 80 counter comments to these comments were also received. These comments were analyzed in detail and an inter-ministerial meeting was also held and accordingly, these Rules have been finalized.
Implementation of new guidelines
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 3 months after publication of these Rules.
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