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The impact of new social media rules


Proposed changes to rules governing social media platforms in India have created a flutter. Mint explains how the amendments create new grievance redressal measures for social media users, while increasing compliance burden on the platforms.

What does India’s IT Rules, 2021 say?

The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics) Rules were announced in February 2021. The rules required additional compliance measures for significant social media intermediaries (SSMIs), which is any social media platform with more than five million users in India. They require SSMIs to put in place mechanisms to trace the first originator of a message or post, and also appoint Indian citizens at key compliance positions. SSMIs need to adhere to these rules in order to be eligible for safe harbour protections mentioned in Section 79 of India’s IT Act.

What are the amendments? 

On 6 June, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) added a clause to the IT Rules under which the government will appoint a Grievance Appellate Committee, which can overrule any content takedown, blocking or removal decision made by social media platforms. The amendments also require SSMIs to ensure that rights guaranteed to users under the Indian Constitution are respected. They require SSMIs to take a second look at their grievance redressal mechanisms, and act on content removal requests from users within 72 hours of a complaint being filed.


Are the amendments final?

No; a draft of the new rules has been published on the ministry’s website, and will be open for public consultation for the next 30 days. This means that industry bodies and even Big Tech firms can send in their recommendations on the rules, and suggest alternatives or modifications. The rules are expected to be finalized next month. The government has said that it is open to alternatives to these rules.

What do the changes mean for you? 

Users will appreciate a mechanism to supersede decisions made by platforms. However, such rules can be misused by government agencies to suppress dissent or take other undemocratic steps. Platforms may be able to escape controversy if a contentious post is referred to the new authority and the decision taken out of their hands, but it could also dilute the platforms’ own control over its services, which may affect user experience. That said, platforms won’t be as worried as they were about the first originator rule.

What if a platform doesn’t comply? 

Experts have said that non-compliance will not lead to a ban. However, such a platform will not be able to seek protection under the safe harbour protections under the Information Technology Act. Safe harbour protections are very important for platforms that deal with user generated content, since they ensure that the platform cannot be sued for a post, message etc shared by a user using its services. Even if they don’t comply, platforms can continue operations in India, but can’t seek these protections in the case of a suit.

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