The government announced the tightening of rules governing social media and streaming companies amidst growing concerns around the lack of transparency, accountability, and users’ rights related to digital media. The rule has been framed after elaborate consultation with the public and stakeholders.
The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 has 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.
While finalizing these Rules, both the Ministries of Electronics and Information Technology and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting undertook elaborate consultations among themselves to have a harmonious, soft-touch oversight mechanism in relation to social media platforms as well as digital media and OTT platforms, etc.
Part- II of these Rules shall be administered by the Ministry of Electronics and IT, while Part-III relating to the Code of Ethics and procedure and safeguards in relation to digital media shall be administered by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. As per the new rule, the major Social Media Platforms need to take down unlawful content within a specific time-frame of being served either a court order or notice by an appropriate government agency.
The rules have separate categories for $exual content – which “exposes the private areas of individuals, show such individuals in full or partial nudity or in sexual activity or is like impersonation including morphed images” – under which an intermediary shall within 24 hours remove the offending content. The rules about digital media and OTT focus more on in-house and self-regulation mechanisms whereby a robust grievance redressal mechanism has been provided while upholding journalistic and creative freedom.
The new rule received mixed responses from the industry. Welcoming the government decision, Dr. Subho Ray, President, IAMAI, said, “IAMAI has welcomed the much-awaited Intermediary Guidelines 2021. The Guidelines, focused primarily on consumer complaints, will help consumers of online curated content, social media users and online news and current affairs resolve their complaints in a process-oriented manner”.
According to Rajni Daswani, Director at SoCheers, The code of use of social media is a good step towards safety on the internet and if monitored by the Grievance Redressal that is set up. She added, “In recent times, a lot of controversial arguments on what is said on the internet has kept Twitter and the Supreme Court busy. We should see cyber-crime cases (especially bullying, ghosting, and all) reduce or much better managed than they are currently. Waiting to see how the self-regulation thing works out, though, since this has been a completely non-regulated forum so far.”
Nigam Niggehalli, Dean, BML Munjal University, is of a different opinion. “I think many aspects of the rules are not unreasonable in themselves. The rules are trying to regulate the more unsavory features of social media and OTT content-pornographic content and fake news being the two most obvious problems. The real issue, which we will have to wait and watch, is to see how the rules are implemented and whether more bureaucratic supervision will lead to more stifling of freedom of expression. One more issue with the rules is that the grievance redressal and oversight mechanism for social media intermediaries must be thought through properly.”
He added, “One can look at the Facebook oversight board model to see if a body that is independent both of the social media intermediaries and the government can act as an effective arbitration in disputes over the legitimacy of digital content.” In light of what has been the trending topics on the internet in recent months and the pressure that built upon the Government, releasing this code document was of crucial importance.
“Of late, the debate over giving OTT platforms the freedom for content has been questioned, and this new code of ethics will hit OTT platforms & Digital News Media where it hurts – the content that they offered & the one that their users applauded/loved. Setting up the mechanisms for parental locks, classification of content is very doable, but the addressing of grievances will get them to settle for less controversial content. We’ll have to wait and see how much all parties are willing to settle for eventually,” concluded Daswani.