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Are new curbs on social media warranted?

The Central government has announced new guidelines for social media and OTT platforms as part of its efforts to curb abuse. IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar jointly presented the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 at a press conference. As per new norms, posts or tweets that are offensive to women should be removed within 24 hours of receiving a complaint. A three-tier grievance redressal mechanism will be introduced for social media. The first level involves the publisher, the second is self-regulatory body and the third the I&B ministry. OTT platforms should appoint a Chief Compliance Officer, Nodal Contact Person and Resident Grievance Officer.

The Self-Regulatory Body may be headed by a retired Supreme Court or High Court judge or by an expert in the relevant field. This office will also provide advice to the media. Social media platforms should disclose the source of a tweet or a post if requested by the court or government agencies. This applies to contents related to the sovereignty, security, law and order, relations with foreign countries, rape and sexual misconduct. Social media platforms are divided into two categories – social media intermediaries and significant social media intermediaries – based on the number of users. Information about them will be made available to users shortly. Intermediaries will have a grievance redressal mechanism. They will appoint a grievance officer. This officer will register complaints and resolve them within fifteen days. The intermediaries will publish a monthly compliance report detailing the complaints received, action taken and the contents removed. The Chief Compliance Officer must be an Indian citizen. He/she should ensure that rules and regulations are followed. The Nodal Contact Person is responsible for 24×7 coordination with law enforcement agencies. The Resident Grievance Officer will be responsible for grievance redressal. Intermediaries have been told to remove or disable contents showing person’s private parts, full or partial nudity, sexual activity, or morphed images of individuals within 24 hours of receiving the complaint.

All OTT platforms should self-classify contents into five categories based on viewer’s age. They are U (Universal), U / A 7+, U / A 13+, U / A 16+, and A (Adult). Parents must be able to lock contents belonging to categories U/A 13+ and above. And ‘A’ category content requires reliable age verification system.

Social media platforms should have a mechanism to better understand users. If anyone’s post is removed, the person must be notified and his or her side heard. OTT platforms and digital media should disclose their details even though their registration is not mandatory.

Minister Prasad welcomed social media platforms to do business in the country. He praised the role of social media in empowering people and airing their concerns.

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