Emphasising the need for regulating social media and OTT platforms, the government of India has introduced new guidelines regulating the same. Amidst growing concerns around lack of transparency, accountability, and rights of users related to digital media, the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 has been framed.
The ministry highlighted that there are over 161 crore users on major social media platforms including Whatsapp, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter. And while it welcomes social media platforms to do business in India, it also stressed the need to follow the Constitution and laws of India.
Given the disturbing developments observed on social media platforms, the guidelines issued state due diligence should be followed by intermediaries. The intermediaries, including social media intermediaries, will have to establish a grievance redressal mechanism for receiving resolving complaints from the users or victims, and shall also appoint a Grievance Officer to deal with such complaints. The name and contact details of such an officer will have to be shared. The Grievance Officer shall acknowledge the complaint within 24 hours and resolve it within fifteen days from its receipt.
The guidelines also highlight that intermediaries shall remove or disable access within 24 hours of receipt of complaints of contents that expose the private areas of individuals, show such individuals in full or partial nudity or in a sexual act, or is in the nature of impersonation including morphed images, etc. Such a complaint can be filed either by the individual or by any other person on his/her behalf.
In addition, significant social media platforms need to appoint a Chief Compliance Officer who shall be responsible for ensuring compliance with the Act and Rules, a Nodal Contact Person for 24x7 coordination with law enforcement agencies, a Resident Grievance Officer who shall perform the functions mentioned under Grievance Redressal Mechanism. Such persons shall be a resident in India.
Social media platforms will have to publish monthly compliant reports 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. In cases where significant social media intermediaries remove or disable access to any information on their own accord, then a prior intimation for the same shall be communicated to the user who has shared that information with a notice explaining the grounds and reasons for such action. Users must be provided with an adequate and reasonable opportunity to dispute the action taken by the intermediary.
Significant social media intermediaries providing services primarily in the nature of messaging shall enable identification of the first originator of the information that is required only for the purposes of prevention, detection, investigation, prosecution, or punishment of an offence related to sovereignty and integrity of India, the 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. The intermediary shall not be required to disclose the contents of any message or any other information to the first originator.
The Ministries of Electronics and Information Technology and Ministry of Information and Broadcasting undertook elaborate consultations among themselves to have a harmonious, soft-touch oversight mechanism in relation to social media platform as well as digital media and OTT platforms etc. Part- II of these Rules shall be administered by Ministry of Electronics and IT, while Part-III relating to Code of Ethics and procedure and safeguards in relation to digital media shall be administered by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
The Rules will come in 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 3 months after publication of these Rules.