Amidst growing concern over lack of transparency, accountability and rights of users related to digital media, the Centre came out with a set of rules for the functioning of social media platforms in the country.
The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 empower the ordinary users of digital platforms to seek redressal for their grievances and command accountability in case of infringement of their rights.
Guidelines Related to Social Media
Due Diligence followed by Intermediaries:
In case of not following due diligence, safe harbour provisions will not apply to intermediaries
Grievance Redressal Mechanism:
The Rules empower the users by mandating the intermediaries, including social media intermediaries, to establish a grievance redressal mechanism. The intermediaries shall appoint a Grievance Officer and the grievances should get resolved within fifteen days from its receipt.
Ensuring Online Safety and Dignity of Users, especially Women Users:
The intermediaries shall remove or disable access within 24 hours of receipt of complaints 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. An individual or by any other person on his/her behalf can file such a complaint.
Two Categories of Social Media Intermediaries:
To encourage innovations and enable growth of new social media intermediaries without subjecting smaller platforms to significant compliance requirement, the Rules make a distinction between social media intermediaries and significant social media intermediaries.
Additional Due Diligence by Social Media Intermediary:
Appoint Chief Compliance Officer who shall be responsible for ensuring compliance. Such a person should be a resident in India.
Appoint a Nodal Contact Person for 24×7 coordination with law enforcement agencies.
Appoint a Resident Grievance Officer who shall perform the functions mentioned under Grievance Redressal Mechanism.
Publish a monthly compliance report on the complaints received and action taken on the complaints as well as details of contents removed proactively by the significant social media intermediary.
Significant social media intermediaries providing services primarily in the nature of messaging shall enable identification of the first originator of the informationthat is required only for the purposes of prevention, detection, investigation, prosecution or punishment of an offence related to sovereignty and integrity of India, security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, or public order or of incitement to an offence relating to the above or in relation with rape, sexually explicit material or child sexual abuse material punishable with imprisonment for a term of not less than five years. Intermediary need not disclose the contents of any message or any other information to the first originator. Significant social media intermediary shall have a physical contact address in India published on its website or mobile app or both.
Voluntary User Verification Mechanism:
Users who wish to verify their accounts voluntarily shall get an appropriate mechanism to verify their accounts and provided with demonstrable and visible mark of verifiction
Giving Users Opportunity to be heard: Users must be provided an adequate and reasonable opportunity to dispute the action taken by the intermediary
Removal of Unlawful Information: An intermediary upon receiving actual knowledge in the form of an order by a court or being notified by the Appropriate Govt. or its agencies through authorized officer should not host or publish any information which is prohibited under any law in relation to the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, public order, friendly relations with foreign countries etc.
Digital Media Ethics Code Relating to Digital Media and OTT Platforms
With widespread concerns about issues relating to digital contents both on digital media and on OTT platforms, the Rules establish a soft-touch self-regulatory architecture and a Code of Ethics and three-tier grievance redressal mechanism for news publishers and OTT Platforms and digital media.
Code of Ethics for online news, OT platforms and digital media: This Code of Ethics prescribes the guidelines to be followed by OTT platforms and online news and digital media entities.
Self-Classification of Content: The OTT platforms, called as the publishers of online curated content in the rules, would self-classify the content into five age based categories- U (Universal), U/A 7+, U/A 13+, U/A 16+, and A (Adult). Platforms would be required to implement parental locks for content classified as U/A 13+ or higher, and reliable age verification mechanisms for content classified as “A”. The publisher of online curated content shall prominently display the classification rating specific to each content or programme together with a content descriptor informing the user about the nature of the content, and advising on viewer description (if applicable) at the beginning of every programme enabling the user to make an informed decision, prior to watching the programme. Publishers of news on digital media would be required to observe norms of Journalistic Conduct of the Press Council of India and the Programme Code under the Cable Television Regulation Act
A three-level grievance redressal mechanism has been established under the rules with different levels of self-regulation.
Level-I: Self-regulation by the publishers;
Level-II: Self-regulation by the self-regulating bodies of the publishers;
Level-III: Oversight mechanism.