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‘Follow Indian law, no more double standards’: Full details of new guidelines for tech-giants, OTT platforms and digital media

"Social Media companies are welcome in India, but there cannot be double standards. It an attack takes place on Capitol Hill, Social Media supports police action, but when an attack happens on the Red Fort, they show double standards. This will not be acceptable", said Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad.

'Follow Indian law, no more double standards': Full details of new guidelines for tech-giants, OTT platforms and digital media by Modi govt

On Thursday, Union Ministers Prakash Javadekar and Ravi Shankar Prasad announced the centre’s new guidelines for digital news organisations, social media platforms and OTT platforms.

Addressing the press conference, Union Electronics and Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad categorically stated that social media companies are welcome to do business in India, however, they must not overrule the dignity of civilised existence.

“Social media platforms are welcome to do business in India but they need to follow the Constitution and laws of India. Social media platform can certainly be used for asking questions and criticise. Social media platforms have empowered ordinary users but they need accountability against its misuse and abuse,” said Union Electronics and Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad in the press conference.

In the press conference, Union Minister Prasad said that the new rules will empower ordinary users of social media, embodying a mechanism for redressal and timely resolution of their grievance.

The Minister also said that they have had widespread consultations on the issue and came with a draft in December 2018. The newly drafted regulation – Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, aims to have tighter control over the powerful big tech firms.

Modi govt takes strong note on fake news on social media

Taking a strong note of the fake news emanating on social media platforms, the centre has said that there is a need to counter fake news, financial frauds in India. The minister also said several concerns have been raised over the years about social media’s rampant abuse.

Under the rules, the digital companies will have to remove objectionable content within 36 hours after a government or legal order and will have to assist in investigations. The rules will likely also include a code of ethics that bans content affecting “the sovereignty and integrity of India” and that which threatens national security.

“Many organisations have fact-check machines, which only indicates the strong presence of fake news in India,” says Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad.

Grievance Redressal Mechanism for social media users

Under the new draft, the social media entities will have a grievance redressal mechanism. Union Minister Prasad also said that the social media intermediaries should appoint a Grievance Officer to deal with such complaints and share the officer’s name and contact details. The centre has also set up a three-tier system to regulate online content.

“We shall notify users number for a significant social media intermediary very soon. They will have to have a grievance redressal mechanism, you will also have to name a grievance officer who shall register the grievance within 24 hours and disposal in 15 days,” said Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad.

The minister also said that social media companies need to act and remove the content in the next 24 hours if there are complaints regarding morphed images and nudity.

“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 a sexual act or is in the nature of impersonation including morphed images etc,” said the minister.

Social media intermediaries categorised, says Union Minister

In the press conference, IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad also said that the social media intermediaries will now be classified under two categories – Social media intermediary and significant social media intermediary. This distinction is based on the number of users on the social media platform.

The minister said that the government is empowered to notify the user base threshold that will distinguish between social media intermediaries and significant social media intermediaries. The Rules require significant social media intermediaries to follow certain additional due diligence.

Act on the originator of mischievous content, says the new rules

Emphasising the need to act on the originator of mischievous content, the Minister also said that social media platforms would be required to disclose the mischievous content’s first originator.

Under the new rules, the significant social media intermediaries should identify the first originator of the information required only for prevention, detection, investigation, prosecution, or punishment of an offence related to India’s sovereignty and integrity, relations with foreign states, public order or incitement of criminal offences like rape or child abuse. The intermediary shall not be required to disclose the contents of any message or any other information to the first originator, stressed the IT minister.

It yet another important step, the government has also enforced social Media platforms to provide for voluntary verification of users. From now on, the 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. 

The centre will implement the law within the next three months, said Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad.

OTT platforms will be self-regulated, centre will have oversight mechanisms

Speaking on the regulation of OTT platforms and digital news outlets, Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar said all media platforms must have the same justice system. He also said that there have been widespread concerns about issues relating to digital contents both on digital media and OTT platforms.

The I&B minister added that the government has also studied the models in other countries, including Singapore, Australia, EU and the UK and has gathered that most of them either have an institutional mechanism to regulate digital content or are in the process of setting up one.

The Rules establish a soft-touch self-regulatory architecture, a Code of Ethics, a three-tier grievance redressal mechanism for news publishers and OTT Platforms, and digital media. Stressing that press freedom is the essence of democracy, Minister Prakash Javadekar also noted ethics code will remain common for all, and no one has the right to rumour-mongering, especially in the digital space.

Union Minister Prakash Javadekar said that OTT and digital news media will have to disclose their details and added that the government will not mandate compulsory registration.

“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,” said the I&B minister.

“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 Union Minister Prakash Javadekar.

The minister also added that there will also be an oversight mechanism at the government level to deal with the case wherein immediate action is needed. He also added that The OTT platforms, called the publishers of online curated content in the rules, would self-classify the content into five age-based categories.

“For OTT, there should be self-classification of content – U (Universal), U/A 7+, U/A 13+, U/A 16+, and A (Adult). There has to be a mechanism of parental lock and ensuring compliance that children don’t see that,” Union Minister Prakash Javadekar.

Social media platforms cannot have double standards, RS Prasad

Concluding the press conference, Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad also took barbs at the social media platforms for displaying double standards when it comes to acting against hate speech.

“Every social media platforms are welcome in India, but there shouldn’t be double standards. If an attack takes place on Capitol Hill, SM supports police action, but if there’s an aggressive attack on Red Fort, you’ve double standards. This is plainly not acceptable,” said Prasad while highlighting the recent hypocrisy of Twitter to act on hate-speech in India just as it acted in the United States during the Capitol Hill protests.

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