Social media firms operating in India will have to implement the new Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 which are applicable from today. These new guidelines were released in February, giving social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Koo three months to comply. The new IT Rules 2021 for digital media platforms includes the requirement to appoint a resident grievance officer as part of a larger grievance redressal mechanism, active monitoring of content on the platform, monthly compliance reports for Indian users, self-regulation mechanisms and also an oversight mechanism created by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology. And no, Facebook and Twitter aren’t getting banned.
What are the main requirements of the IT Rules 2021?
As we have already mentioned, the new IT Rules 2021 for digital media platforms includes the requirement to appoint a resident grievance officer who should be based out of India as part of a larger grievance redressal mechanism, active monitoring of content on the platform, responsiveness to grievances, expedited processes to take down certain content including revenge porn, monthly compliance reports for Indian users, self-regulation mechanisms and also an oversight mechanism created by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology.
Which social media platforms come within the ambit of the IT Rules 2021?
All significant social media platforms with more than 50 lakh (5 million) users, which means Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Koo, for instance, are very much categorized as large social media platforms. As of March this year, WhatsApp has more than 390 million users in India. Facebook had clocked 320 million users in India, as of January 2021 numbers from research firm Statista, making this the largest market for the company ahead of the US (190 million) and Indonesia (140 million). Twitter also has more than 17.5 million users in India, as per the numbers from January this year. The made in India social media platform Koo has crossed 60 lakh users.
What are the requirements for the grievance redressal system?
The new IT Rules 2021 say that digital media platforms now require a larger grievance redressal mechanism which will include a Chief Compliance Officer, a Nodal Contact Person and a Resident Grievance Officer. All social media platforms are required to publish these details on their apps and websites and explain to users the mechanism in place to make a complaint against any content on the platform. These complaints need to be acknowledged within 24 hours of receipt and these complaints need to be actioned upon within a period of 15 days from the date of receipt.
Are there any exceptions to this rule?
The exception to this rule is what the guidelines describe as “any content which is prima facie in the nature of any material which exposes the private area of such individual, shows such individual in full or partial nudity or shows or depicts such individual in any sexual act or conduct, or is in the nature of impersonation in an electronic form, including artificially morphed images of such individual,” shall need to be removed or disabled access within 24 hours from the receipt of a complaint via the redressal mechanism. The social media and digital media platforms will also require immediate redressal for any government notices or court orders. The new IT Rules require much quicker responses to content complaints that are raised, something that hasn’t always happened till now.
What is a Chief Compliance Officer?
The new Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 clearly state that “For the purposes of this clause “Chief Compliance Officer” means a key managerial personnel or such other senior employee of a significant social media intermediary who is resident in India.” Simply put, this entity in all digital media platforms operating in India, must be based out of India.
What if social media companies don’t comply with the IT Rules 2021?
his is where the subsection 1 of the section 79 of the IT Rules 2021 comes into play. This has been clearly mentioned in the new IT Rules 2021. “When an intermediary fails to observe these rules, the provisions of sub-section (1) of section 79 of the Act shall not be applicable for such intermediary and the intermediary shall be liable for punishment under any law for the time being in force including the provisions of the Act and the Indian Penal Code”. The section 79 specifically gives digital media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and WhatsApp legal immunity in a way against liability for posts made on their networks, third party information or data. That legal immunity will be withdrawn if non-compliance becomes an issue.
But what is the legal immunity that digital media platforms have?
Sub-section 1 of section 79 of the IT Act says, “Notwithstanding anything contained in any law for the time being in force but subject to the provisions of sub-sections (2) and (3), an intermediary shall not be liable for any third-party information, data, or communication link made available or hosted by him.” The sub-sections 2 and 3 state that the legal immunity provisions apply if “the function of the intermediary is limited to providing access to a communication system over which information made available by third parties is transmitted or temporarily stored or hosted” and the intermediary does not initiate the transmission, select the receiver of the transmission or select and modify the information contained in any transmission.
Does this change the way you use WhatsApp or Facebook or Twitter?
No, there is absolutely no change in the way you regularly interact with any social media platform. As long as you aren’t breaking the rules of the nation as well as the community guidelines, with posts that are offensive or downright dangerous. That is very much within the ambit of strong action, legal or otherwise. The only difference, in a way, would be in case you raise an issue with the grievance redressal systems of any of these platforms for content posted on by any other user—the resolution will now have to be quicker, and the platform will need to be responsive.