17:05 GMT19 April 2021
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    There are over 600 million internet users in India – the majority of whom are heavy consumers of social networking platforms and content streaming sites. In recent months, graphic content and misinformation has made the government enforce laws to keep the internet in check.

    Indian Cabinet Ministers Ravi Shankar Prasad and Prakash Javadekar on Thursday announced the country's first guidelines to regulate India’s digital space.

    As per the regulations, all social networking platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter among others are required to appoint a chief complaint officer who must be a resident of India. The officer will review and take care of user grievances about offensive language, abusive behaviour, and provocative content on their assigned social media platform, and facilitate necessary action within 15 days.

    ​In a bid to unearth the origin of controversial or fake news, social media platforms will also be required to reveal the identity of any user to first post flagged content, as ordered by the government.

    “India welcomes social media platforms to do business and earn money in India, while empowering ordinary Indians with a platform for speech and expression. The government also welcomes criticism on social media by nationals. However, some criminals and terrorists are misusing these platforms to create disharmony, violence and chaos. That needs to be monitored,” said Prasad, India’s federal minister for electronics and information technology (IT).

    ​In addition, the new digital media regulating laws require social media platforms to appoint a contact person to coordinate with law enforcement agencies.

    For content streaming over-the-top (OTT) platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime, the guidelines demand content be classified into five age-based categories. For content categorised as suitable for over 13s only, OTT platforms will need to enforce parental locks as mandatory.

    The move comes after much Indian-made original content streamed by these OTT platforms has been flagged for including abusive language, intimate scenes, and same-sex encounters.

    ​Several netizens have welcomed the guidelines, applauding quick action against offensive content.

    ​Talking to Sputnik, Kazim Rizvi, the founder of Indian tech policy think tank The Dialogue, said that while the guidelines are well intended, there are certain aspects that must be considered in the interest of national security and privacy.

    “The cornerstone of our digital freedoms is ‘safe harbour.’ Thus, making it conditional to the requirement of automated proactive monitoring and censoring illegal content as mandated under the new rules might lead to privacy challenges, and could also lead to censorship by intermediaries," he said. "The use of automated tools which are not nuanced enough is likely to cause a chilling effect on ‘Free Speech’. Secondly, small platforms that do not have the bandwidth to proactively monitor would face legal consequences or shut down leading to a massive hit on ease of doing business." 

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