Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad today commented that while all social media companies are welcome in India, they must ensure compliance with Indian laws and refrain from adopting double standards.
Prasad made the comment at a press conference held to announce the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021, which would be applicable to social media companies, over-the-top (OTT) platforms and digital content platforms.
“Social media is welcome to do business in India. They have done exceedingly well, they have got good business, they have got good number of users and empowered ordinary Indians,” Prasad observed during the press conference.
He added that the “government welcomes criticism and the right to dissent.”
He also urged social media not to adopt double standards, observing,
“All social media welcome, but there should not be double standards. If there is an attack on Capitol Hill, social media supports police action. If there is an aggressive attack on Red Fort, the symbol of India’s freedom, where our PM unfurled the national flag, there are double standards. This is plainly unacceptable.”
“Soft-touch oversight mechanism” being introduced.
He emphasised that social media companies must ensure that their Indian users, running into crores, are given a proper and time-bound resolution of their grievances against abuse and misuse.
To this end, the government is now introducing a “soft touch oversight mechanism“, Prasad said, where it would insist on the media platform to develop a grievance mechanism itself.
The new guidelines mandating this classifies social media entities into two categories, intermediaries (including social media intermediary) and significant social media intermediary.
Significant social media intermediaries would have additional obligations. Prasad said that the Centre will notify the number of users that would make an entity a significant social media intermediary soon.
Salient features of the new guidelines
- The platform would have to put in place a Grievance Redressal Mechanism. Any grievances moved by users would have to be registered within 24 hours and disposed of in 15 days.
- If there are complaints against the dignity of users,particularly women (such as content involving nudity, impersonation etc.) the same must be removed within 24 hours.
- Significant Social Media Entities will have the following additional obligations: a) have a Chief Compliance Officer resident in India, who would be responsible for compliances with laws b)Nodal contact person resident in India, who would have to coordinate 24×7 with law enforcement agencies c) publish a monthly compliance report.
- Social media platforms will have to disclose who is the first originatorof mischievous content. If this originator is outside India, then the social media company would have to disclose who started it in India.
- Social Media Platforms must have a provision for voluntary verification of users.
- Before a significant social media intermediary disables access to information to a social media useror removes content, prior notice, and an opportunity to explain would have to be given to the user.
Significant social media intermediaries would get a three-month window to comply with the new rules applicable especially to them. All other rules would take effect from the time they are notified, Prasad informed.
As far as the regulation of OTT platforms and digital outlets is concerned, Union Minister Prakash Javadekar stated that a three-tier mechanism is being introduced, which would require the platforms to carry out the following obligations:
- Disclosure of information (from where and how content is being published). Registration is not being made mandatory, rather information is being sought, Javadekar said.
- There should be a grievance redressal system. A self-regulation mechanism should also be there, which would comprise a body headed by a retired Supreme Court or High Court judge or an eminent person.
- OTT platforms will have to do self-classification of age-related content. Parental locks must be in place to ensure children do not see inappropriate content. Censor Board standards generally applicable would also be applicable to OTT platforms (they will be common to all).