The Intermediary Guidelines and digital media ethics code 2021 (New IT Rules) are an amendment to Intermediary Guideline Rules,2011. The Rules came into effect from 27th May 2021. The guidelines announced by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) in coordination with the  Ministry of Broadcasting (MIB) had asked all the social media intermediaries to comply with new guidelines within three months from the date of notification. The government of India (GOI) aims to strengthen the cybersecurity of the nation through this move.

The New IT Rules announced then essentially had three specific requirements that all social media platforms were asked to adhere to:

1)The Intermediary platforms were asked  to set up an office in India and appoint three officers for the following designations;

  • Chief Compliance Officer.
  • Resident Grievance officer.
  • Nodal Contact officer.

Furthermore, all the platforms had been asked to make a website and have contact number available of the officers

If any user has made a complaint, then these officers are directed to resolve the issue within 24 hours. They also have to be transparent to the user about the procedure that has been taken into consideration for their complaint and acknowledge the user with this information within 15 days of the complaint being made. 

2) All the social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp, etc., are directed to publish a monthly report to the government. This report would include information regarding how many complaints have they received for the particular month, and the procedures followed to resolve those complaints. 

These reports would also include the number and kind of posts they have removed from their social media platform for that particular month. If they are removing any post or link, social media platforms are directed to inform the users of the reasons behind the same.

3) Another requirement by the New IT Rules focused on the building up of the provisions for tracking the first originator of the message.

All the social media intermediaries are directed to form a technique that can automatically identify the content related to rape or sexual abuse. Platforms are directed to remove such content from the applications, even if it was some content that was posted earlier. Though at this point, there is an imbalance of staff that could deal with the concerned tools and techniques.

The failure to comply with the given requirements takes away the safe harbor under section 79 of the Information Technology Act.

GOI Responds To Supreme Court 2018 Observations Against Online Adulterated Content

The framework that legislates the traditional media and the electronic media exists in the proper order, unlike with the digital platforms, and OTT. There was a requirement of robust compliance mechanisms for the ordinary users of the platforms, which have time and again been discussed in courts, and parliament. 

The supreme court in 2018, had observed that there is a need to frame regulations so that there could be the elimination of child pornography, rape and gang rape imageries, videos from the websites. Following which, many adulterated websites were blocked in the country.

During this period of the pandemic, cases of cyberbullying and data thefts have also raised bars. The most recent India Internet Report 2019 suggested that in India, two in three internet users (66%) between 12 and 29 years of age were caught in cyberbullying. The cases of plagiarism were also registered in high numbers.  

Apart from the government stand, the other side believes that these rules will hinder the idea of freedom of expression and dissent. Some critics have even pointed towards the lack of privacy.

Though major platforms have adhered to the New IT Rules, a few like Twitter and WhatsApp have challenged the government in the higher courts. WhatsApp has shown concern about its privacy being hindered through this act, whereas Twitter is caught in an even greater controversy with the executive. Recently twitter labeled Sambit Patra’s tweet as ” manipulative media” and then a series of steps like removing the blue tick from the vice president’s account has added fuel to the fire.

Questions are being raised on the way Twitter functions on a left narrative which was quite visible in the American Elections when it was able to block the president of the United States then. Also, Twitter has not put the tag of the manipulative media on the opposition tweets.

The government is of the view that when you function within India and earn revenue you should comply with the regulation and adhere to the Indian Constitution.

Various industrial bodies including the US-India Business Council (USIBC), Asia Internet Coalition(AIC), and other important forums of the industry have expressed their helplessness over the covid situation and written to the Indian government to make provision for more time.