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Government tightens controls on social media sites

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The new rules are likely to have far-reaching effects on digital media and follow a clash with Twitter over protest from farmers.

The rules known as “Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021” have been designated by the government as a “soft-touch regulatory architecture”.

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Slippery slope

They require large social media companies to remove illegal content within a specified period of time after being served either a court order or a notice from an appropriate government agency.

In addition, “major social media intermediaries” will be required to identify the “first author” of “malicious content” in messaging apps, a move that could spark fear of government surveillance.

According to the rules, social media platforms were classified according to the number of users. Smaller platforms are “social media intermediaries”, while the large ones are classified as “significant social media intermediaries”.

The government has yet to specify the user base threshold to distinguish between the two.

Major social media intermediaries must appoint a chief compliance officer, a node contact who coordinates with law enforcement, and a resident complaints officer. All three must be based in India. “The government welcomes criticism and the right to dissent. Social media has been used to ask questions, but it is important that users also have an adequate forum for timely resolution of complaints about abuse and abuse of social media, “said Minister of Information and Technology Ravi Shankar Prasad reporter.

He said social media platforms have amassed a significant number of users in India. These include WhatsApp (530 million), YouTube (448 million), Facebook (410 million), Instagram (210 million) and Twitter (17.5 million).

These major platforms are required to publish a monthly compliance report detailing the complaints received and actions taken.

“The details of such rules are important and we will carefully study the new rules that have just been released. We will continue to work to ensure that our platforms play a vital role in promoting India’s exciting digital transformation, ”said a Facebook spokesman.

Twitter and Google spokespersons declined to comment.

The rules also state that a mechanism should be provided for users who wish to voluntarily verify their accounts. Major social media intermediaries must give users advance notice before removing or blocking access to information they have shared.

Importantly, the regulations prevent major intermediaries, upon receipt of a court order, from including or disclosing information required by law relating to “the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India; Public order security, friendly relations with foreign states; Decency or morality; regarding disregard of the court; Defamation; Incitement to a crime related to the above

Gurshabad Grover, Senior Policy Officer at the Center for Internet and Society, welcomed the attempt to build accountability through the reparation of grievances.

He added: “Legally, certain points in the guidelines represent an essential obligation that cannot be foreseen from the legal text itself. The invasion of privacy (by tracing the first creator) and the definition of types of intermediaries (two types of intermediaries on social media) should be done by law, not delegated legislation. In the worst case, this can be seen as an attempt to bypass parliament. “

The government also tightened its control over digital news media and over-the-top (OTT) video streaming platforms through a three-tier mechanism. While the first two levels introduce a system of self-regulation by the platform and the self-regulatory bodies of the content publishers, the third calls for a control mechanism by the central government.

“The idea is to create a level playing field for all media, since print and television already functioned under certain restrictions,” said Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar.

The government had asked OTT platforms several times to develop a code of self-regulation, but the latest draft of the code did not allow third-party interference. The freedom of the press is “absolute”, but it comes with responsibility, added Javadekar.

Publishers of news in digital media would have to comply with the journalistic standards of conduct of the Indian Press Council and the programming code of the Cable Television Networks Regulation Act.

Under the new rules, the digital website or content publisher must designate an India-based complaints officer who must respond to the complaint within 15 days. The second tier will include the self-regulatory agency of the news publisher or streaming platforms run by a retired Supreme Court or Supreme Court Justice or an eminent person. Third, and most importantly, the Department of I&B will set up a cross-departmental committee to hear complaints.

Instead of prior censorship, platform owners have to classify their content according to different age groups: “U” or universal rating and others for the age groups 7+, 13+, 16+ and 18+.

“These guidelines are as expected and actually pretty mild compared to the type of pre-censorship of content that many feared,” said a streaming platform executive.

The rules are due to the industry’s failure to formulate a self-regulatory code that would satisfy the government.

However, he said that OTT platforms developed these classifications for India as they don’t exist in other countries. Platforms would also need to implement parental controls for content rated U / A 13+ or higher and reliable age verification mechanisms for content rated “A”.

Karan Taurani, an analyst at Elara Capital Ltd, said the move will lead to consolidation in the OTT industry or the closure of niche apps that rely on adult content but are good for big global giants and broadcaster-run OTTs Have signs.

Netflix, ZEE5, Shemaroo, Hoichoi and ALTBalaji declined to comment. Amazon Prime Video, Disney + Hotstar, SonyLIV, Eros Now, VOOT, MX Player and Lionsgate Play did not respond to Mint’s requests.

The courts need to be involved in interpreting some aspects of the new regulations, said Chandrima Mitra, partner at DSK Legal. “There are now different categories of ratings that can get more cumbersome for both the content creator and the platform.”

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