Is India paving new road to get social media to take responsibility for content?

The government of India has prepared an arsenal of new powers to take on today’s digital age.

In late February, the government introduced a new set of rules via an executive order to regulate social media platforms, messaging services, Over-The-Top (OTT) platforms operating in the country.

New IT rules 2021: First, remove questionable content

The rules, titled the Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 (Rules), require social media platforms to remove certain types of content, particularly those posts with “full or partial nudity,” “sexual act,” or “impersonation including morphed images.”

Social media platforms operating in India are also required to have three officers: a compliance officer who will ensure the company adheres to local laws; a grievance officer who will address complaints made about the platform; and a contact person who will be available for Indian law enforcement authorities to contact anytime of the day. The platforms must also publish a monthly report that details the number of complaints they receive as well as the actions they took to address the complaints.

All social media services in the country are required to comply—and these include tech giants like WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Netflix, and Amazon. There is no mention if social casino platforms and online casinos like off-shore casinos like PureWin will be affected by the new regulations.

Sweeping new regulations ‘logical corollary’ to global events

The government has been working on the new rules for several years, but the publishing of the executive order comes amid the protest movement by Indian farmers. In February, the Indian government had a standoff with Twitter after the social media giant reinstated a number of accounts that officials said had “incendiary and baseless” hashtags. The protests have also resulted in the home ministry ordering local providers to suspend internet services in parts of the National Capital Region.

India’s Minister for Electronics and Information Technology Ravi Shankar said, “Social media is welcome to do business in India — they have done exceedingly well, they have brought good business, they have brought good number of users, and they have also empowered ordinary Indians.”

The government described the new Internet rules as part of its bid to prevent “abuse and misuse” of social media. However, some parties see the regulations as dangerous on grounds that they can be “misused to stifle dissent.”

At least 10 international non-government organizations published an open letter calling for the government to suspend the sweeping Internet regulations, which they describe as part of the government’s push towards “digital authoritarianism.”

“The rules change the fundamental Internet experience for any average user in India,” Apar Gupta, executive director of India’s Internet Freedom Foundation, said. “Social media companies, streaming platforms and online news portals are now being brought under some level of direct government supervision… These rules are a very stark illustration of a desire of the government to control the online conversation. They extend forms of regulation over areas that enrich any kind of democracy, and encourage self-censorship.”

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