The pandemic caused due to COVID-19 has resulted in the exponential development of online entertainment. The content on the OTT platforms and social media has been subjected to repeated scrutiny and thus resulting in the urgency of regulation of content on the digital space. The Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 shall regulate the OTT platforms, social media intermediaries, online news entities, and current affairs websites. Further, this Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 which prescribes a Code of Ethics have been framed under the decades-old Information Technology Act, 2000. The said rules have been framed in exercise of rulemaking powers which are vested with the Central Government under section 87 (2) of the Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000 as well as in subrogation of the previous Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines) Rules 2011.
The Rules consist of two parts, firstly one which regulates intermediary platforms and the other related to the code of ethics, procedures, as well as the safeguards in digital space (“Code of Ethics”). The Ministry of Electronics and IT and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting will be responsible for the administration of the aforesaid set of rules, respectively.
The announcement of this new code was made in a press conference which was chaired by Ravi Shankar Prasad as well as Prakash Javadekar.
Key Features of the Code:
Guaranteeing Dignity and Online Safety of the Users
Intermediaries shall remove/disable access within 24 hours of receipt of The content of complaint that reveals the private parts of individuals, or even depicts an individual in absolute or partial nudity or which includes morphed images for the purpose of impersonation, etc.
The individual subjected to such explicit content (i.e. the victim) or any other person on his/her behalf is entitled to file such complaints.
Establishment of a three-level Grievance Redressal Mechanism
The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 ensures empowerment of the users by mandating the intermediaries, which is inclusive of the social media intermediaries in order to receive as well as resolve the complaints from the victim or the user and which can be done by the establishment of a grievance redressal mechanism.
1st Level: Self-regulation by the publishers. Under this, a Grievance Officer shall be appointed in order to deal with the complaints from the victim or the user and even the name and contact details of such officers must be shared by such intermediaries. He shall acknowledge the complaint must be acknowledged by the Grievance Officer within twenty-four hours and he must resolve it within the time span of fifteen days from the date of receipt.
2nd Level: Self-regulation carried out by the one or more self-regulating bodies of the publishers to address the grievances that the publisher hasn't resolved within the 15 days' time period. This body will consist of not more than six members and will be headed by a retired judge of the High Court, Supreme Court, or an independent eminent person.
3rd Level: The Oversight mechanism shall be formulated by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and in addition, an Interdepartmental Committee shall be constituted for hearing and resolving the grievances.
Two Categories of Social Media Intermediaries
The new code distinguishes between the social media intermediaries and the significant social media intermediaries (on the grounds of the number of users on the specific social media platform).
According to the code, an intermediary shall observe due diligence. On the other hand, significant social media intermediaries must take into consideration certain additional due diligence.
Empowering the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting
The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting is empowered for the implementation of the Part-III of the Rules, which lays down the following:-
- Code of Ethics which is to be followed by the online news, OTT platforms, digital media.
- The publishers of online curated content in the rules which are the OTT platforms would be responsible for the self-classification of the content into five major age-based categories namely:
- A (Adult),
- U/A 16+,
- U/A 13+,
- U/A 7+ and
- U (Universal).
Further, parental locks shall be implemented by these OTT platforms in respect of the content which is classified as U/A 13+ or higher, in addition, a reliable age verification mechanism must also be implemented for the content classified as “A”.
Compliance officers (residents of India) are required to be appointed by the OTT platforms and Social media for ensuring efficient compliance and also upkeep of accountability. These Compliance officers include
(1) Chief compliance officer,
(2) Nodal contact person and
(3) The resident grievance officer.
The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 has traced out a tactful process for tracing the first originator of the content.
The new Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 is a touchstone and progressive step taken by the Central Government as it will result in the empowerment of the different users of social media.
It prescribes, for the first time, how the social media, digital news entities, and OTT platforms will be regulated by the Central Government.
Hence, to conclude in accordance with the view of Ravi Shankar Prasad that the double standards which social media consists of will not be acceptable.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.