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New IT rules: Definition of 'significant social media' soon; focus is on self-regulation, grievance redressal

It is likely that top social media companies will have to comply with additional requirements under the law. India has 53 crore WhatsApp users, 44.8 crore YouTube users, 41 crore Facebook users, 21 crore Instagram users and 1.75 crore Twitter users.

February 25, 2021 / 05:06 PM IST

The government will decide which platform will come under the 'significant social media' category, based on the number of users, and these companies will have three months to comply with the norms under new IT rules, said Union IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad.

Announcing the new IT rules to be followed by social media companies, digital media and OTT players, Prasad said the government is classifying social media into two -- significant and non-significant social media.

“Significant social media companies may be those with more than 50 lakh users or so. We have not decided. We will notify what is a significant social media soon,” he said.

It is likely that top social media companies will have to comply with it. India has 53 crore WhatsApp users, 44.8 crore YouTube users, 41 crore Facebook users, 21 crore Instagram users and 1.75 crore Twitter users.

The rules come at a time when the government is on social media war with Twitter over not suspending social media handles. Earlier, Amazon Prime had faced flak for its political drama Tandav for disrespecting Hindu deities. Netflix too has received complaints for hurting religious sentiments.


As Prasad pointed out in his media briefing, while the country welcomes social media platforms to do business in India, "they need to follow the Constitution and laws of India."

“Focus is self-regulation by social media majors with soft-touch oversight mechanism,” he said.

According to Prasad, it is important for ordinary social media users to have a forum to raise grievances against the misuse of social media like spreading fake news and inciting violence.

So, these companies will have an additional compliance burden under the new IT rules. This includes having a Chief Compliance Officer of Indian origin to be appointed. They will also have to publish monthly compliance report.

These companies will also have to disclose the originator of the information, which affects the security of the nation, defamation and inciting violence. “This is only in cases where punishment is more than five years like rape and hence there are proper safeguards in place,” clarified Prasad.

That is also the reason why the government has brought digital and online publications into the fold.

The new rules will now require digital media companies to follow Norms of Journalistic Conduct of the Press Council of India and the Programme Code under the Cable Television Networks Regulation Act, thereby providing a level playing field between the offline (Print, TV) and digital media.

According to Prasad, this was in a bid to remove double standards and make online media follow the same rules they follow in the print.

Union Minister Prakash Javedkar said that this is so that they can also identify how many digital publications are there. “Right now we don’t even know how many digital media are currently in India,” he said.

OTT platforms too have to self-regulate. They have to appoint a Grievance Redressal Officer based in India, who will now have to take a decision on every grievance received by it within 15 days. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting will form an oversight mechanism in addition to the self-regulating body for publishers headed by the retired judge from either Supreme Court or High Court.

According to Javedkar, while cinema has Censor Board and TV operators are governed under Cable TV Regulation Act, OTT players have nothing governing them. The classification provided by the rules also mandates platforms to implement parental locks for content classified as U/A 13+ or higher, and reliable age verification mechanisms for content classified as “A”.

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Moneycontrol News
first published: Feb 25, 2021 04:58 pm
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