Government releases rules for social media, OTT platforms; details here
The Centre on Thursday released a set of new guidelines to regulate digital content. The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology announced draft Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021. The rules will impact digital news media, social media sites, OTT platforms, etc. With this, the government seeks to establish a "soft touch progressive institutional mechanism with the level-playing field."
'Double standards of social media will not be acceptable'
IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad announced the Digital Media Ethics Code, warning that "double standards of social media will not be acceptable." "We have not framed any new law. We have framed these rules under the existing IT Act," Prasad said. The proposed new rules will impact social media companies (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), OTT platforms (Netflix, Amazon Prime, etc.), and digital news publishers.
3-tier regulatory framework proposed
The new rules bring organizations under a three-tier regulatory framework: self-regulation (Level I); self-regulation by the self-regulating bodies (Level II); and the government's oversight mechanism (Level III). For Level 1, companies will have to appoint a grievance redressal officer whose details would have to be published on their websites. Social media companies would require a chief compliance officer, nodal contact officer, and grievance officer.
Industry bodies to regulate content at Level II
For Level II, complaints against organizations will be considered by industry bodies overseeing them. These bodies will have to be headed by a retired judge of the Supreme Court or of a High Court, appointed from a panel prepared by the Ministry. The bodies will have up to six members including "experts from the field of media, broadcasting, technology, and entertainment."
At Level III, government committee will regulate content
For Level III, the content will be regulated by an inter-departmental government committee appointed by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. The committee will have representatives from the Ministries of Defence, External Affairs, Home, I&B, Law, IT, and Women and Child Development.
What is the complaint redressal process?
Under these new rules, a complaint would first be registered to the grievance redressal officer, who has to address it within 15 days. If the matter remains unresolved, the complainant may approach the industry body's grievance committee, which also has to respond within 15 days. If the complainant remains dissatisfied still, they may approach the inter-departmental government committee.
What kind of action can be taken?
Actions under these rules include the removal of content, issuance of an apology, giving a warning, changing the rating of the content, etc. However, the final decision rests with the inter-ministerial government body at Level III. This has raised concerns about censorship.
Tracking of information 'originator' on social media
The rules also state that social media platforms will have to track the first originator of the information, raising privacy concerns, as this goes against the end-to-end encryption if WhatsApp and Signal have to follow the rules. The government has said that it is not interested in the content of the message. Instead, they wish to know who started the "mischief."