Companies adopt wait-and-watch policy on new social media and OTT rules

Companies adopt wait-and-watch policy on new social media and OTT rules
Photo Credit: Pixabay
26 May, 2021

With the deadline to comply with the new rules for social media, digital media and over-the-top (OTT) content players expiring on Tuesday, companies are banking on an extension of the timeline. To be clear, so far the government has not indicated any extension to the implementation of these new set of rules which were notified on February 25 this year. 

However, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) is said to have formed a nodal team earlier this month to work on putting together a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to guide the implementation of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021. The SOPs will provide a clearer understanding of compliances and will be made public on finalization. 

Industry associations and bodies representing the interests of the social media platforms and OTT players including the Confederation of Indian Industry and Internet and Mobile Association of India have written to the government requesting a six-month extension to the deadline of May 25. 

Meanwhile Facebook owned messaging platform WhatsApp on Wednesday filed a legal petition against the government challenging the new rules. WhatsApp in its petition argued that the requirement for ensuring traceability of messages on the platform and the identification of the originator of a message mentioned in the new rules goes against fundamental right to the privacy of citizens of India. 

The petition adds a new dimension to the issue of compliance with respect the new set of rules, which is turning into a ‘who blinks first game. 

Social media platforms – job half done

According to the new rules, a ‘significant social media intermediary’ which has more than 5 million registered users will be required to appoint a chief compliance officer, a nodal contact person and grievance officer located in India. This would include all social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, Sharechat, Koo, Chingari and others. 

In response to specific queries, a Facebook spokesperson said, “We aim to comply with the provisions of the IT rules and continue to discuss a few of the issues which need more engagement with the government. Pursuant to the IT Rules, we are working to implement operational processes and improve efficiencies.” 

A week ago, Facebook advertised for the position of regional ethics and compliance manager for the Asia Pacific region. Meanwhile Google has also advertised for the positions of grievance officer and chief compliance officer based out of India. 

Tiger Global backed microblogging platform Koo said in a statement that it had met the compliance requirements set down by the government and had appointed existing employees to the new roles to oversee compliance. 

While these are some of the better known social media platforms, there are multiple players which come under the purview of the new guidelines. The compliance officer at a video app TechCircle spoke to said that it had made internal appointments to comply with the new rules. “There are multiple smaller entities like us and it is unlikely that the ministry can ascertain compliance for each one,” he added, requesting anonymity. 

OTTs yet to be fully compliant

The new set of rules also regulate OTT and digital media players, prescribing a three-level self-regulatory mechanism. While the first level will include internal compliance by the publisher, the second level of compliance includes the setting up a self-regulating body to address grievances beyond the 15 day period. 

“IAMAI as an industry association is working towards setting up and operationalising a self-regulatory body for the OTT streaming platforms to address grievances as part of the Level II structure as mandated by IT Rules 2021.  The unprecedented pandemic situation in the country has impacted our transition to the new regulatory regime, particularly the process to on-board senior experts for the Grievance Redressal Board,” Bhanupreet Saini, head of public policy at IAMAI told TechCircle

IAMAI had announced a toolkit for self-regulation by OTT platforms which had 17 signatories including Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, Disney Hotstar, Alt Balaji and Jio Cinema. 

In a statement, a spokesperson for Amazon Prime Video said that it was compliant with the new set of rules. “With a view towards prioritising the empowerment of our diverse and discerning viewers’ to make informed viewing choices, we have successfully adapted our processes to make Prime Video as a video streaming service compliant with the new rules,” said the spokesperson. 

As all eyes rest on the WhatsApp petition, legal experts caution against over-regulation and wider consultations. 

“The IT Rules of 2021 envisage a robust regime to cater to modern day challenges. It is important to be cautious that we do not end up over-regulating the space which could entail unintended infractions of free speech and user privacy,” said Kazim Rizvi, founder of Delhi-based policy think-tank The Dialogue. He added, “The IT Rules, 2021 has the potential to nurture a safe, progressive and inclusive online space which is why its implementation must be delayed till the time the inputs of stakeholders are considered and manifested in the updated version of the IT Rules.”