India is said to be the largest open Internet business in the world, attracting numerous social media firms in India to do business. Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 were framed and notified by the government of India in February this year in exercise of the powers conferred to them under Section 82 clause 2 of the Information Technology Act of 2000. On the broader aspect these rules were framed by the Government of India to deal with social media platforms and over the or OTT platforms. Social Media includes all the websites and apps by way of which the users to it share and create content and as well as engage in social networking and over the top platform is a kind of media service which is offered to the consumers over the use of Internet.
Reason behind Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021.
In these modern times when the country is totally dependent on social media platforms and OTT platforms, the government recognized the need to ensure safety and soverignitty of the cyberspace and the protection private or personal data of the users. Abusive language, defamatory information, and hate speech have become all too prevalent on social sites. These platforms' algorithms for optimising views and ads frequently fail to discern between relevant or beneficial material and abusive content and false news, amplifying them in very little or no time.
With such a large population reliant on social media platforms, tech behemoths cannot afford to ignore new and emerging challenges such as the persistent misinformation, blatant abuse of the platforms to share morphed photos of women, deep fakes, and other contents that threaten women's dignity and pose a security risk.
New guidelines as stated in the 2021 rules are as follows:
- There will be two categories of social media platform intermediaries namely social media intermediaries and the significant social media intermediaries. This categorization will be based on the number of users to that platform.
- The significant social media category will have to appoint a Chief Compliance Officer to meet the demands of the government of India as an when asked to do so.
- These platforms have to maintain a nodal officer to coordinate with the law enforcement agencies of the government.
- Due diligence is to be followed by all the intermediaries in order to be protected by section 79 also referred to as the safe harbor provisions. This section protects all the intermediaries from being prosecuted for any content that has been posted on them by its users.
- A grievance redressal mechanism has to be set up by these platforms under which a grievance officer will be appointed to deal with the complaints. He shall take into account the complaints within 24 hours of it being addressed to him/her and shall have to resolve the same within a duration of fifteen days.
- To ensure online safety and the dignity of the users the intermediaries has been asked to disable or remove any such content as expressed by the complainant to them within 24 hours of the receipt of such complaint. This rule specifically deals with that type of content which exposes any body part fully or partially on the platform or morphed images etc.
- These intermediaries has to be capable of tracing the original sender or creator of any such content which disregards the sovereignty and integrity of India, disturbs public order , tries to spoil foreign relation of the country etc. For punitive measures this rule has to be abided by the social media platforms.
- These platforms should not host and should remove any type of unlawful information shared or created on them.
- The OTT platforms have to classify the content into five age groups as U (Universal), U/A 7+, U/A 13+, U/A 16+, and A (Adult). This shall be done to classify the content for different types of users.
- These platforms will have to set a system of parental lock for these three categories namely U/A 13+, U/A 16+, and A (Adult).
- These platforms have to display the ratings at the beginning of each program so as to inform the user about the nature of the content that is being displayed in the program.
- The OTT platforms have to maintain a three-tier grievance redressal mechanism which are as follows:
- SELF-REGULATION BY THE PUBLISHER under which the Grievance Redressal Officer shall take action against the complains received by it within a duration of 15 days and shall try to resolve it as soon as possible.
- SELF REGULATING BODY OF THE PUBLISHER which shall be a six-member body headed by a retired High Court Judge or a retired Supreme Court Judge. This body will monitor the publisher's compliance to the Code of Ethics and will resolve complaints that have not been resolved by the OTT platform within a duration of 15 days.
- OVERSIGHT MECHANISM under which The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting will create a monitoring system and will provide a charter for self-regulating entities, as well as Codes of Practice. It will form an Inter-Departmental Committee to hear concerns regarding the complaints.
All the big social media giants such as WhatsApp, Facebook etc. faced the challenge of a ban in India if they would not be able to comply with this framework of rules. For example, WhatsApp face the challenge to comply by the rule of tracing the original content sender or creator as this application had end to end chat encryption. These rules have turned out to be a hope of light in the minds of the users as the users have gained confidence on the use of the platforms at that time when the country was facing a challenge to ensure safety and sovereignty of the cyberspace and the protection of private or personal data of the users being leaked through these applications.