Union Ministers Ravi Shankar Prasad and Prakash Javadekar announce social media and OTT platforms regulations

Union Ministers Ravi Shankar Prasad and Prakash Javadekar held a joint press conference on Thursday 25th February to announce rules and guidelines for social media and over the top (OTT) platforms in India.

Minister Prasad welcomed social media platforms to do business in India by empowering ordinary Indians to voice their opinions. However, he accused the non-print media platforms of sharing content that comprises “civilized norms” to affect on individuals’ rights dignity and privacy stating a some examples of online abuse.

He said social media websites and apps will need to remove explicit, objectionable unlawful content on these platforms within 24 hours of a complaint being filed.

Minister Prasad said that there will be a window of 3 months for the implementation.

Prakash Javadekar stated that discussions with the known OTT platforms were held in Delhi, Chennai and Mumbai. The new rules attempt to regulate WhatsApp, Netflix, Twitter, Facebook, Amazon Prime and other websites and apps.

3-tier redressal system

The ministers declared a 3-tier system to approach the regulation of social media and OTT platforms –

  1. Publisher: OTT and digital media portals must disclose details such as from where they publish, how they publish and to whom are they publishing. They termed this as “not mandating registration” but simply asking for information.
  2. Self Regulatory Body: There must be a self regulation body headed by a retired Supreme Court or High Court judge or a very eminent person in this category. 
  3. Oversight Mechanism: Self-classification of age related issues are to solved using a process in place such as 13+, 16+ and so on. The five categories based on age will be U (Universal), U/A 7+, U/A 13+, U/A 16+ and Adult (A). Mechanism of parental law and compliance will be set in place.

Disclose the first originator of wicked tweet or message

Social media platforms when asked either by a court order or a government authority will be required to disclose the first originator of mischievous tweet or message, as the case maybe. This should only pertain to the sovereignty or integrity of India, the security of the state, public order, foreign relations with other states, or rape, sexually explicit content and other similar content.

Minister Prasad added that there is, “Absolute freedom with responsible reasonable restrictions.” He stated that digital media has no right to spread rumors and lies and therefore, must take the path of responsible freedom. He asks for social media and OTT to be more responsible and accountable for the laws and Constitution of India and says that if not, the Constitution will take its course.

All social media and OTT platforms will undertake a provision for voluntary verification mechanism of users, appoint a chief compliance officer, nodal contact person in India and a resident grievance officer.

Union Minister of Electronics and Information Technology in the public address said, “I urge big social media companies to have a “soft-touch oversight mechanism” and have a “robust redressal” of grievances.”

These platforms have been asked to adopt the same codes followed by print media and nothing more.

The broader parameters of the announcements relate to security, privacy, and propriety of the content being shared, published or displayed on such platforms that threaten the rights of reluctant parties or is in the favor of the safety, integrity, sovereignty of India, friendly relations with foreign states, or public order.

This user agreement and guidelines attempts to inform and warn the end-users not to “host, display, upload, modify, publish, transmit, store, update or share” any information that belongs to a third person and to which the user does not have any right.

The content being shared or published by the end-users should not be “defamatory, obscene, pornographic, paedophilic, invasive of another’s privacy, including bodily privacy, insulting or harassing on the basis of gender, libellous, racially or ethnically objectionable, relating or encouraging money laundering or gambling, or otherwise inconsistent with or contrary to the laws of India”.

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