Govt rolls out new rules to regulate social media giants & OTT firms like Netflix

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Social media, news websites and OTTs to be regulated

The government on Thursday announced new rules to regulate social media giants such as Facebook and Twitter, news websites and video streaming OTT platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime. 

The rules will empower users of social media, said Union IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad.

The new measures will require big social media companies to set up a grievance redressal mechanism and appoint executives to coordinate with law enforcement, the government said in a news statement.

The new rules to regulate digital content will establish a "soft touch progressive institutional mechanism with a level-playing field" featuring a Code of Ethics and a three-tier grievance redressal framework, the official statement said. 

The government said the guidelines in its code of digital media ethics were needed to hold social media and other companies accountable for misuse and abuse.

Social media firms should be “more responsible and accountable,” Ravi Shankar Prasad, minister for information technology, told journalists.

Netflix, Amazon Prime

The rules will also require video streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime to classify content into five categories based on users’ age, the government said.

The rules stipulate self-classification for streaming services on content that is for 13-plus, 16-plus or adults on the basis of age sex, violence and nudity. A mechanism for ensuring children do not access content not approved for them.

Prasad also told reporters the rules would oblige the companies to reveal the originator of a message or posting when asked to do so through a legal order.

Social media sites have to remove or disable offensive or illegal content within 36 hours of being notified or of a court order.

The rules have been in the making since 2018 and have been announced but come shortly after Twitter ignored government orders to drop inflammatory content on farmers’ protests.

A detailed version of the guidelines is to be published later and take effect three months after that, the government said. But it did not specify the exact date.

At a Glance 

*The rules include a strict oversight mechanism involving several ministries and a code of ethics that bans content affecting "the sovereignty and integrity of India" and that which threatens national security.

*Social media giants will be required to appoint India-based compliance officers. If they remove content, they will be required to inform users, give reasons for taking down their post and hear them out.

*Social media sites have to disclose "first originator" of any mischievous message. "Who began the mischief? You have to say," said Mr Prasad, adding that this would apply for spreading content for which the punishment is up to five years.

*The oversight mechanism will include a committee with representatives from the ministries of Defence, External Affairs, Home, I&B, Law, IT and Women and Child Development. It will have "suo motu powers" to call hearings on complaints of violation of the Code of Ethics if it wants.

*The government will designate an officer of the rank of a Joint Secretary or above as the "Authorised Officer" who can direct blocking of content. If an appellate body believes that the content violates the law, it is empowered to send the content to a government-controlled committee for blocking orders to be issued.

*Digital news media will follow rules under the Press Council of India. New websites will have to be registered on the Information and Broadcasting Ministry site.

*The rules bar social media content that is defamatory, obscene, libelous, racist, harmful to minors. , threatens the unity, integrity, defence, security or sovereignty of India and its ties with other countries.

*Companies have to appoint a grievance officer to receive, acknowledge and resolve complaints within a month.

*An intermediary has to, within 24 hours of a complaint, remove or disable access to content that is illegal or offensive.

*A three-tier mechanism to enforce the Code of Ethics: self-regulation; self-regulation by the self-regulating bodies; government's oversight mechanism.

Worldwide scrutiny turning tighter

Tech firms are coming under tighter scrutiny worldwide. Facebook faced a global backlash last week after it blacked out news in Australia after a dispute with the government which is enacting a new law that makes the social giants share revenue with media outlets whose content they use. The other countries in Europe are also closely watching the Australian model as they are drawing up similar plans.