New Social Media Code

  • IASbaba
  • February 26, 2021
  • 0
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  • GS-2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation 
  • GS-3: Awareness in the field of IT

New Social Media Code

Context: Citing instructions from the Supreme Court (Prajjawala case) and the concerns raised in Parliament about social media abuse, the government has released guidelines that aim to regulate social media, digital news media, and over-the-top (OTT) content providers

The government had been working on these guidelines for over three years but the big push came from the recent Twitter controversy

Key features of guidelines

  1. 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 related to nudity including morphed images etc. 
  • Such a complaint can be filed either by the individual or by any other person on his/her behalf.
  1. Grievance Redressal Mechanism
  • Social media intermediaries have to appoint grievance officer, who shall register complaints in 24 hours and resolve it within 15 days of receipt
  • The grievance redressal official must be resident in India.
  1. 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 (which will be notified by Government)
  • The Rules require the significant social media intermediaries to follow certain additional due diligence.
  1. Additional Due Diligence to be followed by Significant Social Media Intermediary
  • Significant Social media Intermediaries will now be required to appoint a chief compliance officer resident in India, who will be responsible for ensuring compliance with the rules. 
  • They will be required also to appoint a nodal contact person for 24×7 coordination with law enforcement agencies.
  • Further, the platforms will need to 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 intermediary shall have a physical contact address in India published on its website or mobile app or both.
  • In case, due diligence is not followed by the intermediary, safe harbour provisions (section 79 of IT Act, 2000) will not apply to them.
  1. Traceability
  • Significant social media platforms will be required to disclose the first originator of the mischievous content as may be required by an court order or an order passed under Section 69 of the IT Act by the Competent Authority.
  • The order would only be passed for the purposes of prevention, detection, investigation, prosecution or punishment of an offence related to the 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 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.
  1. Removal of Unlawful Information:
  • The rules lay down 10 categories of content that the social media platform should not host. These include content that 
    • threatens the unity, integrity, defence, security or sovereignty of India, friendly relations with foreign States, or public order, or
    • causes incitement to the commission of any cognizable offence or prevents investigation of any offence or is insulting any foreign States”;
    • is defamatory, obscene, pornographic, paedophilic, invasive of another’s privacy, including bodily privacy; 
    • insulting or harassing on the basis of gender; 
    • libellous, racially or ethnically objectionable; 
    • relating or encouraging money laundering or gambling, or 
    • otherwise inconsistent with or contrary to the laws of India
  • The rules stipulate that upon receipt of information about the platform hosting prohibited content from a court or the appropriate government agency, it should remove the said content within 36 hours
  1. 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.  
  1. 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. 
  • Users must be provided an adequate and reasonable opportunity to dispute the action taken by the intermediary. 
  1. Rules for OTT services
  • Brought under ambit of IT Act, 2000: Issues relating to digital media and OTT and other creative programmes on Internet shall be administered by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting but the overall architecture shall be under the Information Technology Act, which governs digital platforms.
  • Code of Ethics for online news, OTT platforms and digital media: This Code of Ethics prescribe the guidelines to be followed by OTT platforms and online news and digital media entities. 
  • Self-Classification of Content: The OTT platforms, called as the publishers of online curated content in the rules, would 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”.
  • Level Playing Field between Digital & Offline Media: Publishers of news on digital media would be required 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. 
  • A three-level grievance redressal mechanism has been established under the rules with different levels of self-regulation.
    • Level-I: Self-regulation by the publishers;
    • Level-II: Self-regulation by the self-regulating bodies of the publishers;
    • Level-III: Oversight mechanism: Ministry of Information and Broadcasting shall formulate an oversight mechanism. It shall publish a charter for self-regulating bodies, including Codes of Practices. It shall establish an Inter-Departmental Committee for hearing grievances

Connecting the dots:

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