Government announces guidelines on social media regulation

NEW DELHI: In a bid to curb the misuse of online content, the Centre today released guidelines for regulating social media and OTT platforms saying that while social media platforms were welcome to do business in India, they will have to follow the Constitution and laws of India.

Prakash Javadekar, Minister of Information and Broadcasting and Union Minister of Law and Justice Ravi Shankar Prasad who also holds the portfolio of Electronics and Information Technology and Communications made the announcements the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 which were finalized after its original draft was prepared in December 2018.

Javadekar said that rules about digital media and OTT focuses more on in house and self-regulation mechanism whereby a robust grievance redressal mechanism has been provided while upholding journalistic and creative freedom. While Prasad said that social media platforms have empowered ordinary users but they need accountability against its misuse and abuse and they can certainly be used for asking questions and criticise.

Prasad said that the focus of these guideline were on self-regulation. "We have not framed any new law, but we have framed these rules under the existing IT Act, and we are trusting the platforms will follow these regulations,” he said.

Prasad said that the basic essence of guidelines and ethics code was a 'soft-touch oversight' mechanism to deal with issues such as persistent spread of fake news, abuse of these platforms to share morphed images of women and contents related to revenge porn or to settle corporate rivalries.

For ensuring self-regulation, the government has called for the establishment of a speedy grievance redressal mechanism which will include a three-level grievance redressal mechanism. Level I comprises self-regulations by the publisher, level II comprises the self-regulatory body of the publishers and the third level is the oversight mechanism under the ministry of information and broadcasting.

The OTT platforms will need to employ a chief compliance officer, a nodal contact person and a resident grievance officer under the new social media regulatory mechanism.

The self-regulatory body would be headed by a retired judge of the Supreme Court or of a high court, or by a person of eminence from the relevant field, and can issue advisories to the publisher.

The guidelines for social media intermediaries will make it mandatory for platforms such as WhatsApp to aid in identifying the 'originator' of 'unlawful messages for law enforcing agencies while it will also require the likes of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to take down such messages within a specific time-frame.

They will also have to set up grievance redressal mechanisms as well as assist government agencies in any investigation.

The ministers noted that the digital India programme has now become a movement which is empowering common Indians with the power of technology with the extensive spread of mobile phones. 

"Social media is welcome to do business in India, they have got good business and have also empowered ordinary Indians, but it is very important that crores of social media users be given a proper forum for resolution of their grievances in a time bound manner against the abuse and misuse of social media,” Prasad said

According to government figures the number of users of leading social media include, WhatsApp has 53 crore users, YouTube 44.8 crore users, Facebook with  41 crore users, Instagram 21 crore users and Twitter has 1.75 crore users.


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