The Centre on Thursday released a set of sweeping rules to regulate social media companies, streaming and digital media platforms.
The move will virtually bring these platforms, for the first time, under the ambit of government monitoring.
As per the new guidelines called the ‘Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021?, big social media companies will have to take down unlawful content within a specific time-frame of being served either a court order or notice by an appropriate government agency.
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 Networks Regulation Act” which the government says is needed to provide a “level playing field between the offline (Print, TV) and digital media”.
Key points of the new guidelines:
–Social media giants will be required to appoint India-based compliance officers. If they remove content, they will be required to inform users, give reasons for taking down their post and hear them out.
–Social media sites have to disclose the “first originator” of any mischievous message. “Who began the mischief? You have to say,”. This would apply to spreading content for which the punishment is up to five years.
–The oversight mechanism will include a committee with representatives from the ministries of Defence, External Affairs, Home, I&B, Law, IT and Women and Child Development. It will have “suo motu powers” to call hearings on complaints of violation of the Code of Ethics if it wants.
–The government will designate an officer of the rank of a Joint Secretary or above as the “Authorised Officer” who can direct blocking of content. If an appellate body believes that the content violates the law, it is empowered to send the content to a government-controlled committee for blocking orders to be issued.
–Self-classification for streaming services on content that is for 13-plus, 16-plus or adults on the basis of age sex, violence and nudity. A mechanism for ensuring children do not access content not approved for them.
–Digital news media will follow rules under the Press Council of India. New websites will have to be registered on the Information and Broadcasting Ministry site.
–The rules bar social media content that is defamatory, obscene, libelous, racist, and harmful to minors, threatens the unity, integrity, defence, security or sovereignty of India and its ties with other countries. Social media sites have to remove or disable offensive or illegal content within 36 hours of being notified or of a court order.
–Companies have to appoint a grievance officer to receive, acknowledge and resolve complaints within a month. Tech giants will also have to appoint grievance officers.
–An intermediary has to, within 24 hours of a complaint, remove or disable access to content that is illegal or offensive.
–A three-tier mechanism to enforce the Code of Ethics: self-regulation; self-regulation by the self-regulating bodies; government’s oversight mechanism.