The Central Government on 26th February 2021 came up with new rules and regulations to keep social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, and other OTT platforms on a strict check. This step is said to be initiated by the government after the increase in the usage of social media platforms to promote various activities, some of which were fatal for the nation’s security and integrity.
It has been observed in many recent cases where fake news has been shared and made viral through social media platforms that it has not only disrupted the peace and tranquillity but has also threatened the security of our country which has made it necessary for the government to introduce these rules.
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The new rules were notified by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeITY) headed by Ravi Shankar Prasad and was named as ‘soft-touch progressive institutional mechanism with the level-playing field’ under the Information Technology (Guidelines for the Intermediaries and Digital Market Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 featuring a code for social media, news sites, and OTT platforms.
Provisions of the Rules
The main features of the Information Technology (Guidelines for the Intermediaries and Digital Market Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 are:
- The rules introduced a three-tier mechanism to enforce the code of ethics. The first tier is called self-regulation, the second one is called self-regulation by a self-regulating body, and the third tier is the government oversight mechanism.
(I) Self-Regulation- In this stage, the publisher will have to appoint a grievance redressal officer based in India who shall be responsible for the grievances received by the companies.
(II) Regulation by a self-regulating body- In this stage, there have to be one or more self-regulatory bodies of publishers and such a body shall be headed by a retired judge of the Supreme Court, High Court, or independent and the body should not have more than six members and should be registered with the MIB (Ministry of Information and Broadcasting). This body will check the adherence by the publishers to the code of ethics and take note of the grievances that have not been addressed within 15 days.
(III) The Government oversight Mechanism- The function of this body is to see the formulation of an oversight mechanism by the MIB (Ministry of Information and Broadcasting). The ministry shall publish a charter for self-regulating bodies, including a code of practices. It will also establish an inter-departmental committee for addressing the grievances.
- Social media platforms will be required to appoint compliance officers in India and if any content is removed then the compliance officers will be required to inform users about the reason for the same.
- The oversight mechanism will include different ministries such as the Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Home Affairs, Information and Broadcasting Ministry, Ministry of external affairs, Ministry of law, and Ministry of Women and Child Development and it will be endowed with the power of taking ‘suo motu cognizance.’
- Social media sites will be required to disclose the identity of the ‘First Originator’ of fake news and other mischievous messages for which the punishment has been provided up to 5 years.
- A post of an officer whose rank will be that of a joint secretary or above will be set up as an ‘authorized user’ who will have the power to block the content in case the appellant body believes that the content violates the code of ethics.
- Digital media will be required to follow the rules under the ‘Press Council of India’ and new digital media websites will be required to register themselves on the website of Information and Broadcasting.
- There will be self-classification for streaming services on content according to the age groups, sex, violence, and nudity that are for 13 years+, 16 years+, or adults.
- The Rule based on the Code of Ethics will prohibit such social media content that is obscene, defamatory, racist, harmful to minors and threatens the peace and tranquillity of the country. Such content will be required to remove illegal and mischievous content within 36 hours of being notified or after court orders.
- Companies and tech giants will be required to appoint a grievance officer to receive and resolve complaints within a month.
- An intermediary will have to remove or disable access to contents that are illegal or offensive within 24 hours after being informed about the same.
The Government of India believes that these rules will curb the mischievous use of the Internet and social media sites and will help in stabilizing the peace and tranquillity within the country but as every coin has two sides to it, these rules are no exception to this. Some people believe that by the means of these rules, the government is trying to curb and interfere with the privacy of the people which has been guaranteed by the Constitution of India under Article 19 (1)(a), which guarantees freedom of speech and expression.
About the Author: Tanmay Tathagat is a B.A LL. B Student from Christ University, Bangalore. He is one of the winners of our Fortnightly Blog Writing Competition.