In the present times, social media plays a very pivotal role in framing public opinion. Social Media has the power to either enhance or damage the reputation of famous personalities. Various social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Whatsapp and many other are very popular among people these days. One reason for their popularity is the anonymity of social media. The anonymity of social media gives people the freedom to express their opinions and to articulate their voices regarding various burning issues of the world. Whether social media is a boon or a bane- this debate is never-ending. The pros and cons of social media are being discussed in every corner of the world. However, we need to accept the fact that social media has become an important part in the present times. Therefore, it is important to understand that social media must be used responsibly. The freedom of speech and expression on social media must be used in a positive manner and should not be detrimental to others freedom. Thus, it becomes important to regulate social media through various rules and punishments should be given in case of violation of these rules so as to address the grievances of the aggrieved party.
The Information and Technology Rules, 2000 specifies the role played by the intermediaries and their liabilities in various instances. The Information and Technology Rules are dynamic in nature and are constantly changing with the advancement of technology in order to adapt to the new changes. The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 have brought a drastic change in the nature and working of the IT Rules 2021. These were introduced by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) in February 2021 and the Social Media Intermediaries were a given a period of three months to comply with the new rules. The main objective of the IT Rules 2021 is to provide a speedy redressal to the citizens and to address their grievances with the assistance of a Grievance Redressal Officer (GRO) who should be a resident of India. The main focus of these rules is on women and children and to ensure their protection against various sexual offences, pornography, and misinformation, fake and illegal news. The salient features of IT Act, 2021 are as follows:-
According to the IT Rules, 2021 a Chief Compliance Officer who shall be a resident of India needs to ensure that there is a compliance with the new IT Rules, 2021. He shall have to submit a monthly compliance report mentioning the complaints received and a necessary action to address the complaints is mandatory.
The new IT Rules, 2021 have been formulated to tackle various news pieces and information that could harm the sovereignty, integrity of India.
Various OTT platforms like Hotstar, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and various online news portals, digital media entities need to comply with a Code of Ethics. Under the Code of Ethics, the OTT platforms shall be referred to as “publishers of online curated content.”
Various OTT platforms are supposed to classify content into five categories on the basis of age.
Parental locks are supposed to be used for content suitable for those above 13 years of age.
It is mandatory for OTT platforms to use age verification mechanism for ‘Adult’ content.
For addressing the grievances, a three-level mechanism has been used which includes- Grievance Redressal Officer, Self-Regulatory bodies that have been registered with Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, MIB (Its purpose is to look after the Code of Ethics) and a Charter which is there for self-regulatory bodies formulated by Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
These are some of the salient features of the Information Technology Act, 2021.
SOCIAL MEDIA vs. GOVERNMENT CONTROL:
The Information and Technology Act, 2021 have created a lot of buzz in India. Many sections of the society have applauded the BJP government for the new reforms to tackle the misuse of social media, fake news and misinformation which could be a threat to India’s sovereignty, integrity and could be detrimental to India’s foreign relations. However, the opposition parties along with several other sections of people have criticised The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021. They consider that the main aim of this move is censorship of press. It is being considered as infringement of freedom of speech and expression. Freedom of speech and expression could be curtailed through the new reforms. Freedom of speech and expression are essential features of a democratic setup which is guaranteed to the citizens of India by the makers of the Constitution of India through Fundamental Rights. The government asserts that this move is by no means an attack on the freedom of speech and expression of the citizens of India. Rather, the Information Technology Rules, 2021 have been formulated to combat hate speech, discrimination, abusive language which could threaten the peace of the country and could turn into incitement which is a threat to public peace and could disrupt the functioning of the country.
IT GIANTS vs. GOVERNMENT OF INDIA:
After the introduction of the Information Technology Rules, 2021, various online news portals and social media giants like Whatsapp, LiveLaw, The Quint and The Wire have challenged the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 before the judiciary because they consider these rules to be an attack on the freedom of speech and expression of the citizens as well as curtailment of freedom of press. Whatsapp has filed a case against the Government of India before the Delhi High Court because they consider these new rules as an attack on the privacy of customers. The tussle between Twitter and the Government of India is creating a lot of buzz these days. Twitter has agreed to comply with new rules but needs more time to comply with the new rules.
The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 has created a lot of controversies in India as well as several other countries. Some consider these new rules as an attack on the freedom of press, exploitation of the privacy of users and infringement of freedom of speech and expression whereas the government claims that these new rules were necessary to prevent the abuse of social media which is rising at an alarming rate because of the anonymity of social media. The use of automated filter systems by the intermediaries to remove hate speech, defamatory remarks and abusive language is error-prone. It can filter out legitimate speech and comments that are not defamatory. Therefore, it must be ensured that no rules should be introduced which can violate the fundamental rights of the citizens as they would be considered as a blot on the democracy of India. Also, it must be ensured that adequate measures need to be taken to tackle the issue of hate speech.
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