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social media

Govt defines guidelines for social media, digital media and OTT platforms

social media

With much heat generated the past few weeks over social media patrolling, the government has crafted regulations for online intermediaries including social media apps, digital news platforms and over the top (OTT) companies. 

These rules may be called the Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, as per a copy of the draft rules and under these, Internet intermediaries such as Facebook and WhatsApp will be required to furnish rules and regulations, privacy policy and user agreement for access or usage.

The intermediary (read as WhatsApp, Telegram, Facebook et al) shall inform the user not to host, display, upload, modify, publish, transmit, store, update or share any information that belongs to another person and to which the user does not have any right.  

They (intermediaries) also have to direct users not to post obscene, insulting or harassing on the basis of gender encouraging money laundering or gambling, harmful to minors and threatens the unity, integrity, defence, security and sovereignty of India.

According to the draft, social media companies are required to inform its users of its rules and regulations, privacy policy or user agreement periodically, at least once in a year, or whenever there is a change in the rules and regulations, privacy policy or user agreement. 

Such platforms also have to collect information from a user for registration and shall retain a person’s information for a period of one hundred and eighty days after any cancellation or withdrawal of the registration. 

Also, the social media platforms will have to trace the origin of messages as per the draft rule. This then becomes a privacy challenge for instant text messaging apps including WhatsApp and Signal as their services are end-to-end encrypted.

The intermediaries have to take down contents within 72 hours of the receipt of a lawful order. They also need to provide information under its control or possession, or any assistance to the government agencies.

Under the draft rules, digital media is defined as digitised content that can be transmitted over the internet. Platforms that publish and enable the transmission of news and current affairs content fall under the digital media domain. The curation of such content and its transmission is also covered in the new code.

The rule covers content received, stored or transmitted by news portals, aggregators and agencies. Importantly, the draft doesn’t include replica e-papers of newspapers and user-generated content.

The I&B ministry shall coordinate and facilitate the adherence to the code of ethics by applicable entities and self-regulating bodies. It would also develop the ‘Grievance portal’ for prompt disposal of the grievances and issue appropriate guidance and advisories. 

A significant publisher of news and current affairs content shall mandatorily notify the ‘Broadcast Seva’ that it is operating in the territory of India, by furnishing the information that may be required by the Ministry for the purpose of enabling communication and coordination with such publisher.

Significant publishers are those who have not less than five lakh subscribers, or fifty lakh followers on the services of any significant social media intermediary, as per the draft rule.

The draft also has a provision to establish a self-regulatory body headed by a retired High Court or Supreme Court justice to regulate over the top or streaming platforms. “If this body believes that the content violates the law, it would be empowered to send the content to a government-controlled committee for blocking orders to be issued,” said the draft rule.

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