3-stair mechanism for OTT platforms, monthly compliance reports: Big points from govt guidelines on social media

So far, online news media has not been unregulated, with the information & broadcasting ministry brining it under its ambit last year, but not yet formalising rules for it.

The Сentre оn Thursdаy аnnоunсed new guidelines tо сurb misuse оf sосiаl mediа рlаtfоrms аnd regulаte the ОTT рlаtfоrms. The guidelines will соver digitised соntent thаt саn be trаnsmitted оver the internet оr соmрuter netwоrks.

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeITY) has announced its draft Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, for social media platforms, OTT players & digital media Thursday, with significant recommendations including asking social media companies to give out the originator of a message or tweet as the case may be.

“We have not framed any new law. We have framed these rules under the existing IT Act,” MeITY minister Ravi Shankar Prasad during a press conference announcing these rules. “We are trusting the platforms to follow these regulations,” he said. “The focus of this guideline is on self-regulation.”

It will also include intermediaries such as Twitter and Facebook, publishers of news and current affairs content, and curators of such content.

So far, online news media has not been unregulated, with the information & broadcasting ministry brining it under its ambit last year, but not yet formalising rules for it. These guidelines will come into effect in three months.

In case of OTT platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime, the government has established a three-stair (three-level) grievance redressal mechanism which has following parts: self-regulation by the publishers, self-regulation by the self-regulating bodies of the publishers, and an oversight mechanism.

Here are the main points of the new guidelines announced by Union ministers Prakasah Javadekar and Ravi Shankar Prasad:

  • Due diligence to be followed by intermediaries: The rules prescribe due diligence that must be followed by intermediaries, including social media intermediaries. In case, due diligence is not followed by the intermediary, safe harbour provisions will not apply to them.
  • Grievance redressal mechanism: The rules seek to empower the users by mandating the intermediaries, including social media intermediaries, to establish a grievance redressal mechanism for receiving resolving complaints from the users or victims. Intermediaries shall appoint 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.
  • Ensuring online safety and dignity of users, specially women users: 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: To encourage innovations and enable growth of new social media intermediaries without subjecting smaller platforms to significant compliance requirement, the Rules make a distinction between social media intermediaries and significant social media intermediaries. This distinction is based on the number of users on the social media platform. Government is empowered to notify the threshold of user base that will distinguish between social media intermediaries and significant social media intermediaries. The Rules require the significant social media intermediaries to follow certain additional due diligence.

Additional due diligence to be followed by significant social media intermediary

  • 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.
  • Appoint a nodal contact person for 24×7 coordination with law enforcement agencies. Such a person shall be a resident in India.
  • Appoint a Resident Grievance Officer who shall perform the functions mentioned under Grievance Redressal Mechanism. Such a person shall be a resident in India.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Significant social media intermediary shall have a physical contact address in India published on its website or mobile app or both.
  • Voluntary user verification mechanism: 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.
  • Giving users an opportunity to be heard: 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.
  • Removal of unlawful information: An intermediary upon receiving actual knowledge in the form of an order by a court or being notified by the Appropriate government or its agencies through authorised 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.