Post the entire standoff between the government and Twitter, the centre has announced new guidelines for social media platforms which will make it compulsory for apps like WhatsApp to help in identifying seeds of unlawful messages spread across the country. It will be compulsory for all such platforms to provide information and verify identities to authorities within 72 hours of order. The main reason behind such stringent measures is that several citizens are misusing these platforms to spread false narratives and misinformation which often insinuate violence much like the farmer protest on January 26, 2021. To avoid such extreme scenarios, and to protect the spirit of democracy, the Centre has established new guidelines. The controversy remains that such censoring guidelines go against the core principle of democracies; freedom of expression and speech
The Information Technology Guidelines for Digital Media Ethics
- The Information Technology Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code Rules, 2021 was formed to tackle issues like sensationalism of fake news, abuse of these platforms to share morphed images of women, revenge porn and other explicit content.
Twitter, Facebook and YouTube must take down defamatory and controversial messages within a specific time-frame, set up grievance redressal mechanisms as well as assist government agencies in the investigation. Whatsapp has earlier refused to comply with the government’s request to trace the origin of a fake message as it undermines the private nature of the platform.
The rules enable the identification of the first originator of the information for 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 to the above or in relation with rape, sexually explicit material or child sexual abuse material, punishable with imprisonment for a term of not less than five years.
- On receiving a court order or notice, an intermediary will need to remove or disable access to unlawful information within 36 hours”.
- Platforms need to appoint a Grievance Officer to deal with complaints and share the name and contact details of such an officer. Intermediaries shall remove or disable access within 24 hours of receipt of complaints of contents that exposes the private areas of individuals.
- Further, they need to appoint a Chief Compliance Officer, a Nodal Contact Person, a Resident Grievance Officer and also publish a monthly compliance report mentioning the details of complaints received and action taken on the complaints.
What is in it for Social Media Businesses?
The very essence of such platforms is to amplify the voices that go unheard and help keep democracy in check. As a social media business, you must be careful about the kind of content that is shared on your platform and be wary of misinformation and fake news being spread via your social media. As a business owner, you cannot get caught in dubious scandals caused by your user base, thus having proper rules and guidelines will help you regulate the content share. However, understand that you cannot over-regulate and invade users’ right to privacy and free speech.
These new rules can lead to privacy challenges and also result in censorship by intermediaries. Not everyone misuses social media, however, exceptions exist. But you cannot control narratives just because of a few exceptions. The guidelines will help ensure the safety of the majority of social media users across India.
It is difficult to conduct a social media business when the guidelines can potentially undermine the principles of open and accessible Internet and violate the right to privacy and free speech of users. But users must follow a proper protocol and have their grievances addressed to avoid abuse and violence via social media.