Centre announces social media guidelines to curb misuse, platforms get three months to comply

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New Delhi | Updated: Feb 25, 2021 4:14 PM

Ravi Shankar Prasad said that social media platforms will have a provision for voluntary verification of the user's.

Social Media Platform guidelinesContent involving nudity, morphed pictures of women have to be removed in 24 hours, said Ravi Shankar Prasad while detailing the guidelines.

The central government today announced new guidelines to curb instances of misuse of social media platforms. The guidelines, titled, ‘Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021’, come in the backdrop of allegations that social media platforms were being used to spread fake news, broadcast unethical content as well as the latest privacy row created due to WhatsApp’s new policy.

Union Minister for Communications, Electronics & Information Technology Ravi Shankar Prasad and Minister of Information and Broadcasting Prakash Javadekar addressed a press conference today announcing the measures.

Prasad said that concerns have been raised about rampant abuse of social media platforms including the spread of fake news and the new guidelines are aimed at curbing the rampant abuse and empowering ordinary users of social media. He said social media platforms are welcome to do business in India but they need to follow the Constitution and laws of India.

Detailing the key highlights of the new guidelines, Prasad said, “Content involving nudity, morphed pictures of women have to be removed in 24 hours. Social media intermediaries will have to appoint a grievance officer, who shall register complaints within 24 hours. The platforms will be required to disclose the first originator of the mischief info on being asked by a court or the government. Grievance redressal official must be a resident in India and monthly compliance reports will have to be filed by social media platforms.”

He said that social media platforms will have provision for voluntary verification of the user’s. Major social media companies will get a window of three months to implement the new rules, Prasad said.

“The government welcomes criticism and right to dissent but it is very important for the users of social media to have a forum to raise their grievance against the misuse of social media,” said Prasad.

On the other hand, Javadekar shared the detailed guidelines for OTT platforms. “We have decided to have a 3-stair mechanism for OTT platforms. OTT and digital news media will have to disclose their details….There should be a grievance redressal system in OTT platforms and digital portals. OTT platforms will have to have a self-regulating body, headed by retired Supreme Court or High Court judge or very eminent person in this category,” said Javadekar.

OTT platforms will be required to classify their content based on age group. “For OTT, there should be self-classification of content – 13+, 16+ and A categories. There has to be a mechanism of parental lock and ensuring compliance that children don’t see that,” said Javadekar.

He informed that there will be an oversight mechanism at the government level to deal with the cases wherein immediate action is needed.

Reacting to the new guidelines, Mayank Bidawataka, Co-founder at KOO, told FinancialExpress.com, “Social media guidelines set forth under the Indian laws help clarify the responsibilities of intermediaries. We understand the need for these social media guidelines. Only a small fraction of the social media users are found to be making posts that may be against the laws of the land. The social media guidelines help make addressing these kinds of situations uniform across all social media platforms and ensure the safety of the majority of social media users across India.”

Bidawataka said that enabling and maintaining freedom of speech is core to social media platforms. “We will continue to work in the best interest of our users at all times and ensure that they have a great experience. At the same time, we are committed to abiding by the laws of the land. This policy will help protect the interest of citizens at large and keep nefarious elements at bay,” he said.

Here are what the guidelines say:

Key Guidelines Related to Social Media

Grievance Redressal Mechanism: The government aims to empower the users by mandating the intermediaries to establish a grievance redressal mechanism for resolving complaints. “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,” said a statement from the government

Ensuring Online Safety and Dignity of Users, Especially Women Users: According to the new guidelines, the social media platforms 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 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.

Identification of the first originator: “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 prevention, detection, investigation, prosecution or punishment of an offence related to sovereignty, security and integrity of India, 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,” it said. The rules said that platforms will not be required to disclose the contents of any message or any other information to the first originator.

Removal of Unlawful Information: The guidelines bars an intermediary from publishing any information which is prohibited under any law concerning the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, public order, friendly relations with foreign countries etc. They will have to remove such contents once it’s flagged.

Key Guidelines Related to Digital Media and OTT Platforms

Self-Classification of Content: The OTT platforms, will have to 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,” it said.

The guidelines also ask the publishers of news on digital media to observe Norms of Journalistic Conduct of the Press Council of India and the Programme Code under the Cable Television Networks Regulation Act thereby providing a level playing field between the offline (Print, TV) and digital media.

Self-regulation by the Publisher: The publisher shall appoint a Grievance Redressal Officer based in India. The officer shall decide on every grievance received within 15 days.

Self-Regulatory Body: “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,” it said. This body will also have to see that the publisher is adhering to the Code of Ethics and address grievances that have not to be resolved by the publisher within 15 days.

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