India announces new rules for social media platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter; OTT players and digital media face tougher restrictions

Free speech
India announces new rules for social media, OTT platforms

Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp and other social media companies could be asked to reveal the originator or source of any message deemed illegal in India. According to the Indian government, “first originator” of any message would have to be revealed if it is seen to disturb the peace and attack the sovereignty of India, harming relations with “friendly” countries, disturb “public order” or relates to rape, sexually explicit material or child abuse.

Key points: The new laws have been formulated so as to prevent violence, which is often fueled by misinformation shared online.

  • Social media companies are required to appoint compliance officer in India, who would be required to remove illegal or offensive content within 24-hours
  • Called the ‘Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021′. It will replace some parts of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines) Rules, 2011
  • The rules apply to wide range of digital entities including online news and digital media platforms including OTT players like Netflix and Amazon Prime.
  • To ensure compliance to the ‘Code of Ethics’, the government plans to create a three-tier structure under which user complaints can be addressed.

The new rules are vague and goes against freedom of press and free speech. Article 19 already takes care of basic restrictions. Also, it is it impossible for some social media companies to disclose the identity of users as the communications are end-to-end encrypted.

  • The new laws are a result of massive farmers protest that led to several celebrities like singer Rihanna and Swedish climate change activist Greta Thunberg, tweet about it. Indian government had blamed Sikh separatists for the unrest and violence.

What’re they saying: Union Minister of Information & Broadcasting Prakash Javadekar said, “Press freedom is essence of democracy. When this was attacked during emergency we fought against it and suffered jail for 16 months. But every freedom has reasonable restrictions and has to be responsible”

“Print media has Press Council and follow its ethics code. The digital news portals have to follow nothing. We have changed this. They have to follow now the Ethics Code as laid down by the Press Council.”

Siddharth Varadarajan, the founding editor of The Wire, said “The Indian constitution does not grant the executive the power to sit in judgment over the suitability of content published by the media. Granting an inter-ministerial committee of bureaucrats the power to pass judgment on whether a media platform has responded adequately to grievances raised by members of the public has no basis in law and will amount to killing freedom of the press in India.”

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