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Govt decides to regulate social media, streaming services through Rules under IT Act

By TIOL News Service

NEW DELHI, FEB 25, 2021: THE Central government has unveiled its guidelines to enact greater oversight on digital media and streaming platforms, while regulating social media platforms through the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021.

"Amidst growing concerns around lack of transparency, accountability and rights of users related to digital media and after elaborate consultation with the public and stakeholders, the IT Rules, 2021 has been framed," said an official statement from the Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeITY).

The ministry noted that there are over 161 crore users on various platforms in India, such as WhatsApp, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Keeping in mind the lack of a robust complaint mechanism, the rules allow ordinary users to seek redressal for their grievances and command accountability in case of infringement of their rights.

"The government acknowledges and respects the right of every Indian to criticiseand disagree as an essential element of democracy. India is the world's largest open internet society and the government welcomes social media companies to operate in India, do business and also earn profits. However, they will have to be accountable to the Constitution and laws of India," it emphasised.

The guidelines call for due diligence to be followed by intermediaries, including social media intermediaries, who will have to establish a grievance redressal mechanism and appoint a grievance officer for receiving and resolving complaints. The officer has to acknowledge the complaint within 24 hours and resolve it within 15 days of its receipt.

The guidelines also allow intermediaries 24 hours within receiving the complaint to remove or disable access of contents that exposes the private areas of individuals, show such individuals in full or partial nudity or in sexual act or is in the nature of impersonation including morphed images.

They will also have to publish a monthly compliance report mentioning the details of complaints received and action taken on the complaints as well as details of contents removed proactively by the significant social media intermediary.

The rules also make it mandatory for significant social media intermediaries providing messaging services, such as WhatsApp, to enable identification of the “first originator” of the information to prevent the transmission of fake or sensitive news.

They will also have to establish a system allowing voluntary verifications of users.

In addition to this, significant social media intermediarieswill be required to appoint a Chief Compliance Officer, a Nodal Contact Person and a Resident grievance Officer, who will deal with the grievance redressal system.

There are also guidelines for digital media and OTT platforms like Netflix and Amazon, including news publishers.

"Since the matter relates to digital platforms, therefore, a conscious decision was taken that issues relating to digital media and OTT and other creative programmes on Internet shall be administered by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting but the overall architecture shall be under the Information Technology Act, which governs digital platforms," said the government.

A three-level grievance redressal mechanism has been established under the rules which allows self-regulation by the publishers, self-regulation by the self-regulating bodies of the publishers and an oversight mechanism.

The rules will come into 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 from the publication of the rules.