Binge-watching Netflix? Scrolling Twitter? Check new rules for online platforms

Published on Feb 26, 2021 10:36 AM IST

The guidelines have been framed keeping in mind the difference between viewership in a theatre and television as compared to watching it on the internet, the ministry said.

A US-based company is offering one lucky 'employee' $500 to binge-watch Netflix shows and eat takeout pizza in celebration of National Pizza Day, which is on February 9. (Representative image)(Unsplash)
A US-based company is offering one lucky 'employee' $500 to binge-watch Netflix shows and eat takeout pizza in celebration of National Pizza Day, which is on February 9. (Representative image)(Unsplash)
By | Written by Kanishka Sarkar

The Union ministry of information and broadcasting on Thursday notified a set of rules to monitor the content on digital media, over-the-top (OTT) and social media platforms amid “growing concerns around lack of transparency, accountability and rights of users.”

The ministry asserted that the proposed framework is progressive, liberal and contemporaneous and the rules focus more on in-house and self-regulation mechanisms. “A robust grievance redressal mechanism has been provided while upholding journalistic and creative freedom,” it added.

The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 has been framed in exercise of powers under section 87 (2) of the Information Technology Act, 2000 and in supersession of the earlier Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines) Rules 2011, the Centre said in a statement.

The guidelines have been framed keeping in mind the difference between viewership in a theatre and television as compared to watching it on the internet, the ministry said.

Here’s a look at the new set of guidelines digital media, OTT platforms need to follow:

*The rules establish a “soft-touch self-regulatory architecture” and a Code of Ethics and three-tier grievance redressal mechanism for news publishers and OTT platforms and digital media.

*The OTT platforms, named 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”. The publisher of online curated content shall prominently display the classification rating specific to each content or programme together with a content descriptor informing the user about the nature of the content, and advising on viewer description (if applicable) at the beginning of every programme.

*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.

Here are the guidelines related to social media:

*Due diligence must be followed by intermediaries. In case of violation by the intermediary, safe harbour provisions will not apply to them.

*According to new rules, intermediaries need to appoint a grievance officer to deal with complaints and share the name and contact details of the officer. The officer will acknowledge the complaint within 24 hours and resolve it within 15 from its receipt. The aim is to empower the users by mandating the intermediaries, including social media intermediaries, to establish a grievance redressal mechanism for receiving resolving complaints from the users or victims.

*Ensuring online safety and dignity of users, especially women users: Intermediaries shall remove or disable access within 24 hours of receipt of complaints of contents that expose 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. Such a complaint can be filed either by the individual or by any other person on his/her behalf.

*Removal of unlawful information: An intermediary upon receiving actual knowledge in the form of an order by a court or being notified by the appropriate government or its agencies through an authorised officer should not host or publish any information which is prohibited under any law in relation to the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, public order, friendly relations with foreign countries etc.

*The Rules will come in effect from the date of their publication in the gazette, except for the additional due diligence for significant social media intermediaries, which shall come in effect three months after publication.

*Two categories of social media intermediaries: According to the ministry, to encourage innovations and enable the 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. The government is empowered to notify the threshold of the user base 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.

What additional due diligence needs to be followed by social media intermediary?

-Appoint a chief compliance officer who shall be responsible for ensuring compliance with the Act and Rules. Such a person should be a resident of India.

-Appoint a nodal contact person for 24x7 coordination with law enforcement agencies.

-Appoint a resident grievance officer who shall perform the functions mentioned under the grievance redressal mechanism.

-Publish a monthly compliance report mentioning the details of complaints received and action taken as well as details of contents removed proactively by the significant social media intermediary.

-Significant social media intermediaries providing services primarily in the nature of messaging shall enable identification of the first originator of the information that is required only for the purposes of prevention, detection, investigation, prosecution or punishment of an offence related to 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 to the above or in relation with rape, sexually explicit material or child sexual abuse material punishable with imprisonment for a term of not less than five years. The intermediary shall not be required to disclose the contents of any message or any other information to the first originator.

-Significant social media intermediary shall have a physical contact address in India published on its website or mobile app or both.

-Voluntary user verification mechanism: Users who wish to verify their accounts voluntarily shall be provided with an appropriate mechanism to verify their accounts and provided with a demonstrable and visible mark of verification.

-Giving users an opportunity to be heard: In cases where significant social media intermediaries remove or disable access to any information on their own accord, then a prior intimation for the same shall be communicated to the user who has shared that information with a notice explaining the grounds and reasons for such action. Users must be provided an adequate and reasonable opportunity to dispute the action taken by the intermediary.

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