The government of India issued new rules on Thursday regulating publishers of digital content such as social media intermediaries, OTT (Over-the-top) platforms, and online news and current affairs websites. The rules, known as the Information Technology (Guidelines For Intermediaries And Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, have been drafted under the Information Technology Act, 2000.
Stating the background behind notifying these rules, the government said that the digital technology movement is extensively proliferating to empower common citizens to access information and freely share their views on social media platforms. It further stated:
The Government acknowledges and respects the right of every Indian to criticize and disagree as an essential element of democracy … the Government welcomes social media companies to operate in India, do business and also earn profits. However, they will have to be accountable to the Constitution and laws of India.
The rules have been framed through joint consultations by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB). They prescribe a Code of Ethics and a three-tier mechanism for content regulation. The government also cited issues such as fake news, hate speech, cyber crimes, revenge porn, corporate rivalry etc. as necessitating transparency and regulation.
Bigger social media intermediaries are required to enable the identification of the “first originator” of information for purposes related to “sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign states, or public order, or of incitement to an offense relating to the above or in relation with rape, sexually explicit material or child sexual abuse material.” All social media intermediaries are prohibited from hosting, storing, or publishing unlawful information in relation to similar purposes.