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Sunday, April 18, 2021

Government issues new guidelines for social media, OTT platforms to curb fake news

The new guidelines have been in the oven for quite some time and obviously, there have been speculations on whether they will infringe upon an individual's freedom of expression. Here's what they say

The Indian government on Thursday released a set of new norms and guidelines for digital news platforms, social media and over-the-top or OTT platforms. This came after the Supreme Court’s instructions on similar regulations and concerns of social media abuse raised at the Parliament. The guidelines took a fast lane after the government had a spat with Twitter.

The new guidelines for OTT, social media have been in the oven for quite some time and obviously, there have been speculations on whether they will infringe upon an individual’s freedom of expression or if the government will be able to regulate what you watch on Netflix or YouTube. While the strict guidelines are still vague, it does not seem to be too concerned about what you watch. The guidelines, though crack down hard on social media platforms. They will now be punishable if they fail to adhere to the said guidelines. The details of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 are still to be fine-tuned but the one the minister presented on Thursday seems to change the way social media functioned to date.

The government has called it a way to curb fake news but the new rules, even though seemingly protective of the common people, need to be examined further n detail once all the definitions and sections are explained in detail.

Why were the new guidelines for OTT, social media released now?

This decision to bring out guidelines did not come from out of the blue. The government has been formulating these guidelines for the past three years. But why now? To answer that we need to look back at the incidents of January 26 and the spat between the government and Twitter that followed. This is what expedited the process. But the Law & IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said that these guidelines find their inspiration in a Supreme Court observation of 2018, an order by the apex court in 2019 and two discussions at the Parliament — one at the Upper House or the Rajya Sabha in 2018 and after a report was presented by a committee last year. All of these, the minister said the press conference, pointed out that there there was a need to “empower the ordinary users of digital platforms to seek redressal for their grievances and command accountability in case of infringement of their rights”.

How will social media platforms be affected?

Section 79 of the Information Technology Act says that the social media platforms or “intermediaries” will not be liable for the posts people put up on their platforms. But that will happen only if they adhere to the guidelines. So what do the platforms have to do? They have to make sure that due diligence is followed. If they fail, the so-called safe harbour will not be there for them.

So how will they sure due diligence? The platform will now have a grievance officer, a chief compliance officer who will be stationed in India and a nodal officer who will be in touch with the law enforcement units 24×7. They will also have to come up with a compliance report every month. This will have the details of all the complaints they have received and mention what action was taken on the complaints. It will also have details of contents that was removed by the social media platform.

What are the penalties?

If a social media platform like Facebook, WhatsApp or Twitter fails to adhere to the guidelines it would lose the promised “safe harbour” and will be punished “under any law for the time being in force including the provisions of the IT Act and the Indian Penal Code”. The penalties can be anything from jail time for three years to seven years, with fines of a minimum of Rs 2 lakh or both.

How will your social media experience change?

The social media platforms will have to delete your post within a period of 36 hours if you post anything 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 prevent investigation of any offence or are insulting any foreign States” or “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” and more, your post cannot be kept on a social media platform”.

What will happen to online news organisations?

Digital news platforms will have to follow the new guidelines for OTT, social media under the Press Council of India. New websites that are established will have to be registered on the Information and Broadcasting Ministry site.

What are the new rules for the OTT platform?

One of the major worries of the young Indians was what type of censorship will be applied to their favourite OTT platforms. Whether scenes from movies and web-series will be cut out. Well, the OTT service providers like YouTube, Netflix, Hotstar and others have been asked by the government to follow self-classification of their content. There will be five categories totally — segregated by age.

Content that is suitable for children will be marked “U”, content suitable for kids of age 7 or older will be classified as “U/A 7+” rating. This content can also be suitable for kids below 7 years but in the presence of their parents.

Online content which is appropriate for children aged 13 years and above will be certified a “U/A 13+” rating. Any content which is suitable for children aged 16 and above will be certified “U/A 16+”.

Content will be graded an “A” rating if the content is only for adults. The OTT platforms would have to compulsorily implement parental locks for content that is classified U/A 13+ or higher. Not just that, they would also have to have proper age verification mechanisms for online content that is classified “A”.

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