WhatsApp treating Indian users differently from Europeans matter of concern: Centre to HC

Express News Service
NEW DELHI:  The Centre on Thursday announced sweeping regulations for social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, online streaming or over-the-top (OTT) services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, and messaging apps like WhatsApp and Telegram to protect users’ interest and curb fake news and other harmful content.

The rules make social media firms responsible for the content on their platforms. They will have to deploy automated tools to remove objectionable data. In the case of a government or court order, they must take down the flagged item within 36 hours.

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The regulations require messaging platforms to enable the ‘traceability’ feature so that senders of mischievous messages could be identified. But this might compromise end-to-end encryption.  If a social media platform decides on its own to remove a user’s content, it must inform the customer in advance and state the reasons. 

Notably, digital news media publishers will now have to follow Press Council of India’s norms of journalistic conduct and adhere to the programme code under the Cable TV Networks Regulation Act. This, according to the government, will provide a level-playing field to all media platforms. 

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The new laws, called Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021, came into effect from Thursday.

However, social media platforms will be given an additional window of three months to come under the purview of the new regime. 

According to the government, these rules will establish a “soft-touch self-regulatory architecture and a Code of Ethics and three-tier grievance redressal mechanism” for news publishers, OTT platforms and digital media.

The grievance redressal mechanism stipulates that publishers must address complaints within 15 days. The self-regulating body will be led by a retired judge or an eminent person and have not more than six members. However, cyber experts are not impressed.

“The new rules can be interpreted to target websites/platforms. It may hamper right to free speech and expression,” said cyber lawyer Ankur Raheja.

Over The Top

Social media platforms must remove content depicting nudity, sexual acts or morphed images of women within 24 hours of receipt of complaints

A grievance officer should be appointed to deal with complaints

If a social media platform removes any content on its own, it must explain the reason to the user, who will have the opportunity to contest it

Social media intermediaries to publish a monthly compliance report on complaints received, action taken, and content removed proactively

Code of Ethics for OTT platforms, online news and digital media entities

OTT platforms to self-classify content into five age-based categories – U (Universal), U/A 7+, U/A 13+, U/A 16+, and A (Adult) 

OTT platforms must deploy age verification mechanisms for A-rated content and implement parental locks for U/A 13+ or higher