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Social Media - New Rules and implications (25 May 2021)

Social Media - New Rules and implications (25 May 2021)

Context:

  • On 25th February this year Centre Govt. had announced rules for social media platforms in the 'significant social media intermediaries' category and provided a three-month compliance window. These Rules substantially empower the ordinary users of digital platforms to seek redressal for their grievances and command accountability in case of infringement of their rights.

Background:

  • The genesis of this entire exercise lies in the writ petition of the Prajjawala case which is already known in 2018 and that was the time when honorable supreme court was really worried about the child pornography, rape and gang rape, videos, imaginaries and things like being very much prevalent on the social media platforms and they have called even Microsoft and Google also to present their views in the court and then they directed the government to have suitable rules put in place to avoid these kind of things being repeated.

Summary of the Debate

Set of guidelines which have been put in place by the government for these social media platforms:

Grievance Redressal Mechanism:

  • Social media intermediaries to establish a grievance redressal mechanism for receiving and resolving complaints from the users or victims. Intermediaries shall appoint a Grievance Redressal Officer to deal with such complaints. In case, a person has a grievance against anything that is posted which is causing any challenge to public order, that complaint somebody will be able to launch to the Grievance Redressal Officer and it requires that the Grievance Redressal Officer will be notified by a name and his contact details, he will be required to acknowledge such complaint within 24 hours and resolve it within 15 days.

  • In case the complaint concerns a woman, the obligation is to resolve that complaint within 24 hours or if there is any page any depiction which has been done that has to be removed within 24 hours.

Categories of Social Media Intermediaries:

  • It also calls upon categories of social media intermediaries, one is a regular social media intermediary and then there is a significant social media intermediary.

  • Significant social media intermediaries will be those which will be defined having a large number of followers or larger number of subscribers compared to the usual ones that number has been fixed to those platforms who have more than 5 million subscribers, they fall in the category of significant social media intermediaries.

  • They are required to follow certain other norms which include like

  • Appointing a Chief Compliance Officer who should be a resident in India.

  • Appointing a Nodal Contact Officer which should be available 24x7, who should be a resident of India.

  • A Resident Grievance Officer, who should also be a resident of India.

Monthly report:

  • They are also supposed to file a monthly report with regard to the number of complaints received, the number of actions that have been taken.

Voluntary verification mechanism:

  • There are other provisions which require that platform should have a voluntary verification mechanism wherein like Twitter very often follows a blue tick mechanism. So, there'll be a mechanism to verify users.

Unlawful information:

  • If there is any unlawful information or any fake news is posted on the platform and if a court or a competitive authority directs them to remove them, then they are supposed take action on them.

Need for regulation:

  • Government had notified intermediary guidelines a few months back after extensive consultations, after huge demand from people with regard to the harassment and with regard to the stuff that goes on social media.

  • There's a huge request from various people like people morphed pictures, people try to spoil the reputation of women.

  • All kinds of child pornography and other stuff is also posted.

  • Sometimes some reports are made which can lead to a serious law and order issue.

  • The scope of the social media these days where the access is very much, there each and every person is getting information and is able to post information and there is absolutely no mechanism from these platforms to really check whether the information which is being provided posted is has any basis, whether it is correct, whether it is inflammatory in nature, there is absolutely no control.

  • Those very mild suggestions which the ministry has given, they are not complying and probably they are taking some sort of a confronting stance keeping in mind that so far, the government's stand on most of the issues as far as the media is concerned has been very lenient.

  • Other countries such as Singapore, Australia, the US, UK, and Europe have similar regulations which aim to ensure accountability and uniformity.

What if social media companies don’t comply with the IT Rules 2021?

  • Any non-compliance will attract action as per section 79 of the IT Act.

  • The provisions of sub-section (1) of section 79 of the Act shall not be applicable to intermediary who fails to observe these rules, and the intermediary is subject to penalty under any legislation in force at the time, including the provisions of the Act and the Indian Penal Code.

  • Section 79 notably exempts digital media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and WhatsApp from liability for posts made on their networks, as well as third-party data and information.

  • That legal immunity will be withdrawn if non-compliance becomes an issue.

Significance of these guidelines:

  • Women will be secure from harassment, from people because very often people have access to photographs of women and they post it in objectionable manner. So, the sensitivity with regard to those issues will be taken care of.

  • The post which promotes hatred, the post which promote rape, the post which promote violence that will be restricted.

  • The new IT rules will enhance accountability and prevent arbitrary actions by digital platforms.

  • It will help in maintaining public order, decency, and morality in the country.

Way Forward:

  • The time has come since these social media platforms which are having users up to 50 crore and reach as wide as any rural area hinterland, young or everybody is having the access, it is time that these guidelines are made in such a manner that these platforms can be held accountable and even criminally accountable.

  • The laws of land will have to be followed by everyone, all stakeholders involved here, nobody is above the law.

  • India is a democratic country, everybody is allowed to voice their opinion all the time but the desire for free speech and desire of criticism cannot be taken to an extent wherein somebody's life is involved, somebody's identity involved, crime is involved.

  • There is a need to have some kind of a law which is going to curb the fake news, which is going to curb the falsehood on the lines of the law, which is there in the Singapore and other places that will make these platforms a perfect place for all sections of the society, younger, older, vulnerable, children, women and not only from the sexual but from the news exchange perspective also. These platforms are really good they should work under the government and self-regulatory oversight.

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