India's new social media rules: All you need to know

Delhi - The country's new IT rules went into effect on May 26.

By Joydeep Sen Gupta

Published: Wed 26 May 2021, 5:40 PM

Social media firms operating in India are bound by the new Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021, which became applicable from Wednesday.

The key aspect of the new rule is the quicker resolution of grievances related to content and a stipulated time frame by which a social media platform needs to be responsive.

Earlier, the new guidelines were released in February, giving platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Koo three months to comply with the Narendra Modi-led government’s directive.

The new Information Technology (IT) Rules 2021 applies to digital media platforms and calls for an appointment of a resident grievance officer to redress grievance mechanism, a robust system to monitor content on the platform, monthly compliance reports for Indian users, self-regulation mechanisms, and also an oversight process that has been put in place by India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY).

Contrary to popular perception, there has been no move by the Modi administration to ban Facebook and Twitter.

Key aspects of IT Rules 2021

> Appointment of a resident grievance officer based in India

> Active monitoring of content on the SM platform

> Quick turnaround time for grievances

> Hasty processes to remove certain content, including revenge pornographic materials

> Monthly compliance reports for Indian SM users

> Pro-active self-regulation mechanisms

> Social media platforms are required to have a physical contact address in India

> An oversight mechanism under the watch of MeitY

Social media platforms that must comply with IT Rules 2021

> Social media platforms with more than 5 million users

> Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Koo belong to this category

> WhatsApp had over 390 million users till March 2021, according to Statistica

> Similarly, the corresponding figure for Facebook till January 2021 was 320 million users

> India has more Facebook users than the US and Indonesia at 190 million and 140 million, respectively

> Twitter has over 17.5 million users in India

> Koo has over 6 million users in India

Key features of grievance redressal mechanism

> Appointment of a Chief Compliance Officer, a Nodal Contact Person, and a Resident Grievance Officer

> All social media platforms are required to publish these details on their applications and websites for the benefit of their users

> Complaints need to be acknowledged within 24 hours of receipt

> Complaints need to be actioned upon within a period of 15 days from the date of receipt

What is WhatsApp’s argument?

WhatsApp, the Facebook-owned platform, is at odds with the Modi administration over the traceability clause in IT Rules 2021. The clause requires social media platforms to locate "the first originator of the information” if authorities express a wish along these lines.

WhatsApp filed a lawsuit in the Delhi High Court on Wednesday. It argued that the traceability provision is unconstitutional and impinges against people’s fundamental right to privacy upheld by the Supreme Court of India (SCI), the country’s apex court. It has also challenged the clause which puts “criminal liability” on its employees for non-compliance.

Signal, Telegram, Snapchat, and Wire are the other messaging applications that are likely to be impacted because of the new rule. Signal and WhatsApp are both end-to-end encrypted (E2E).

Besides, WhatsApp has argued that traceability would not be feasible because it would mean re-engineering the app just for the Indian market.

E2E ensures that no third party, not even the messaging app itself, can track or read messages. Also, no log is kept about the sender, receiver, and nature of the content.

In this light, finding the originator of a message is impossible and many messages are either copied or forwarded by users.

WhatsApp has been taking on the Modi administration against the mass surveillance programme and is also raising the issue of purported human rights violations.

Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters

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