Government Of India introduces new rules for OTT, social & digital media platforms

social media rules

Here are the highlights from the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 shaped around increasing accountability of social media platforms, along with regulation mechanisms for OTT.

The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 have been framed in exercise of powers under section 87 (2) of the Information Technology Act, 2000, and in supersession of the earlier Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines) Rules 2011, they are subjected around the users’ digital rights and transparency and accountability of social and digital media platforms.

Guidelines for social media will be administered by the Ministry of Electronics and IT, and the Digital Media Ethics Code for digital media and OTT platforms will be administered by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

The Government Of India says social media platforms will have to be accountable to the Constitution and laws of India, while they operate and earn profits in the country. The government cites the vices of social media and a lack of transparency and grievance redressal mechanism as the need for the introduction of the new rules.

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY) prepared the draft rules in consultation with individuals, civil society, industry associations, and organizations, according to an official press release.

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.

Guidelines Related to Social Media

  • Due diligence must be followed by intermediaries, including social media intermediaries. In case, due diligence is not followed by the intermediary, safe harbor provisions will not apply to them
  • The intermediaries, including social media intermediaries, are mandated to establish a grievance redressal mechanism for receiving resolving complaints from the users or victims, along with appointing a Grievance Officer to deal with such complaints and share the name and contact details of such officer
  • Grievance Officer shall acknowledge the complaint within twenty-four hours and resolve it within fifteen days from its receipt
  • 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 etc. Such a complaint can be filed either by the individual or by any other person on his/her behalf
  • Two categories of social media intermediaries have been introduced based on the threshold of the userbase. The distinction will be outlined as social media intermediaries and significant social media intermediaries, based on the number of users on the social media platform. Significant social media intermediaries are required to follow certain additional due diligence

Also Read: Disclosure labels for promotional content on digital media need to be upfront: ASCI

  • Additional due Diligence to Be followed by Significant Social Media Intermediary –
  1. Appoint a Chief Compliance Officer who shall be responsible for ensuring compliance with the Act and Rules. Such a person should be a resident in India
  2. Appoint a Nodal Contact Person for 24×7 coordination with law enforcement agencies. Such a person shall be a resident in India
  3. Appoint a Resident Grievance Officer who shall perform the functions mentioned under Grievance Redressal Mechanism. Such a person shall be a resident in India
  4. Publish a monthly compliance report 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
  5. 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. Intermediary shall not be required to disclose the contents of any message or any other information to the first originator
  • Users who wish to verify their accounts voluntarily shall be provided an appropriate mechanism to verify their accounts and provided with demonstrable and visible mark of verification
  • In cases where significant social media intermediaries removes or disables 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 an adequate and reasonable opportunity to dispute the action taken by the intermediary
  • 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 & OTT Platforms

This Code of Ethics prescribe the guidelines to be followed by OTT platforms and online news and digital media entities.

  • The OTT platforms 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
  • 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
  • A three-level grievance redressal mechanism has been established under the rules with different levels of self-regulation.
  1. Level-I: Self-regulation by the publishers
  2. Level-II: Self-regulation by the self-regulating bodies of the publishers
  3. Level-III: Oversight mechanism
  • Publisher shall appoint a Grievance Redressal Officer based in India who shall be responsible for the redressal of grievances received by it. The officer shall take a decision on every grievance received by it within 15 days
  • There may be one or more self-regulatory bodies of publishers. Such a body shall be headed by a retired judge of the Supreme Court, a High Court or independent eminent person and have not more than six members. Such a body will have to register with the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. This body will oversee the adherence by the publisher to the Code of Ethics and address grievances that have not be been resolved by the publisher within 15 days
  • Ministry of Information and Broadcasting shall formulate an oversight mechanism. It shall publish a charter for self-regulating bodies, including Codes of Practices. It shall establish an Inter-Departmental Committee for hearing grievances