Web of Control: Will social media be regulated by censor?

By: |
November 22, 2020 8:00 AM

With OTTs under the ambit of the I&B ministry, intermediaries like WhatsApp, Facebook could be next

These would continue to be administered by Meity as before. It was under this Act that the government some months back blocked a host of Chinese apps.These would continue to be administered by Meity as before. It was under this Act that the government some months back blocked a host of Chinese apps.

While over-the-top (OTT) players like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+Hotstar, etc, have now come under the ambit of information and broadcasting ministry for regulation purposes, there is no similar clarity with regard to the regulation of intermediaries like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, WhatsApp, etc. This is because they continue to be under the jurisdiction of ministry of electronics and information technology (Meity) which administers them under the relevant sections of Information Technology Act.

However, experts say since intermediaries also have user-generated content and since I&B has become a content regulator now for OTTs apart from being one for cinema and TV, it is also empowered to make laws which can regulate content on the intermediaries.

Just to illustrate, currently user-generated content on any of the intermediaries is governed under Section 79 of the IT Act. This Act basically provides intermediaries certain exemptions from liabilities with regard to content, data and communication, since these are not generated or owned by it but are third-party generated. In such cases if anything unlawful is noticed, Meity directs the intermediary concerned to remove the unlawful content within a specified period of time.

Only if the intermediary concerned fails to do the same expeditiously or it is found that it has conspired, abetted or aided in the generation of such content, can the government take action against it.

However, with the OTTs coming under I&B ministry, the latter has got powers to make rules for user-generated content, which, apart from being transmitted on OTTs, can also be transmitted on intermediaries. For example, any user can generate content and put it on any of the intermediaries. In such cases, even the I&B ministry now has the power to frame rules to regulate content on intermediaries.

Experts say these are early days and clarity on regulation of content, be it on OTTs or intermediaries and any overlap in the case of latter with Meity, would be clear only once the I&B ministry frames rules. Certain fine-tuning of intermediary guidelines is also in the works at the end of Meity so one needs to wait for it also.

There’s no confusion, however, regarding another law which relates to blocking Internet sites, apps, etc, engaged in activities prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of the country, its defence, security of state and public order, under Section 69A of the IT Act. These would continue to be administered by Meity as before. It was under this Act that the government some months back blocked a host of Chinese apps.

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