Government of India today released the guidelines for regulating social media and OTT platforms in the country. The guidelines spell various responsibilities for the social media platforms and OTT content hosts, with additional responsibilities for major social media sites.
One of the most significant provision of these guidelines is that if the social media platforms don’t comply with the provisions prescribed in the guidelines, this will attract penal provisions as per the Information Technology Act. The new guidelines say that the social media intermediaries must follow the due diligence mentioned in it, and if any intermediary does not follow the due diligence, the safe harbour provisions will not apply to them.
The section 79 of the Information Technology Act defines this safe harbour, which basically makes them not liable for any content posted by users on their platforms. It says that an intermediary shall not be liable for any third-party information, data, or communication link made available or hosted by them, provided they themselves didn’t initiate such communication, and observes due diligence under the IT act.
Now these due diligences to be observed by the social media companies have been defined in the new guidelines. It includes various measures they have to perform, like identifying the first originator of any information that appears on social media, not allowing content that is defamatory, obscene, pornographic, paedophilic, inciting violence, against national integrity, misleading, false etc. The platforms also have to remove any such content withing 36 hours of receiving a court order or a government direction to remove such content.
According to the guidelines, if the social media sites allow such objectionable content to be hosted on their platforms, and don’t remove them even after receiving such orders from courts or government, it will mean that they are not observing due diligence. As a consequence, they will lose the safe harbour in the IT Act that isolates them from content posted on their platforms.
This means, if the social media companies do not comply with the guidelines published today, they will be held responsible for any content which is not allowed as per the guidelines. And, the officials of the social media companies will be liable to be prosecuted for such content. This implies that the social media officials will also be punished according to the nature of the offence, which are defined in the IT Act for various kinds of offences. The punishment defined in the act includes imprisonment for three years for most offences, but life imprisonment for some like cyber terrorism, and also includes fines of various amounts.
This will change how the social media behemoths behave currently, as they often give their own rules and regulations more importance over the law of the land where they operate and often ignore government orders. Recently, Twitter had refused to remove several objectionable posts despite asked by the government of India, and such incidents happen all over the world. But now with the new guidelines, social officials of social media sites can be arrested if they don’t comply with court and government orders.