Govt unveils new social media rules

The government on Thursday announced new rules to curb misuse of social media platforms, as it mandated firms to appoint grievance officer, disclose the first originator of the mischievous information and remove, within 24 hours, content depicting nudity or morphed pictures of women.

Concerns have been raised about rampant abuse of social media platforms and spread of fake news and the government is bringing in a “soft touch” regulation, IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said while announcing the new guidelines.

As per the new rules, social media intermediaries have to appoint grievance officer, who shall register complaints in 24 hours. The grievance redressal official must be resident in India, and monthly compliance reports will have to be filed by social media platforms.

Social media platforms on being asked by court or government will be required to disclose the first originator of the mischievous information.

As per the Information Technology (Guidelines for intermediaries and digital media ethics code) Rules, 2021, social media platforms will also be required to provide information, including related to verification of identity, to lawfully authorised agencies within 72 hours.

At a press conference, Electronics and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said, “Social media is welcome to do business in India, they have done exceedingly well, they have done good business, they have empowered ordinary Indians. The government welcomes criticism and right to dissent….It is important that social media users running into crores should be given a platform for raising their grievance to raise complaints about abuse of social media.”img

He noted that WhatsApp had about 53 crore users in India, YouTube about 48 crore users, Facebook about 41 crore users and about 1.75 crore people used Twitter.

The rules, a draft of which were released in 2018, comes close on the heels of a tussle between the government and Twitter over removal of certain content related to the ongoing farmers’ protests. The government has also been at loggerheads with WhatsApp for over two years on the issue of tracing the originator of the messages. The Facebook-owned firm has in the past denied to comply with the government’s request to trace the origin of a fake message, stating that the move will undermine the private nature of the platform.

The rules released on Thursday stated that intermediaries providing services primarily in the nature of messaging would “enable the identification of the first originator of the information on its computer resource” as may be required by an court order or an order passed under Section 69 of the IT Act by the Competent Authority.

“… such order shall not be passed in cases where less intrusive means are effective in identifying the originator,” it said, adding that the order would only be passed for the purposes of prevention, detection, investigation, prosecution or punishment of an offence related to the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, or public order, or of incitement to an offence relating in relation with rape, sexually explicit material or child sexual abuse material punishable with imprisonment for a term of not less than five years.

Prasad said, “… in complying with an order for identification of the first originator, no significant social media intermediary shall be required to disclose the contents of any electronic message, any other information related to the first originator, or any information related to its other users”.