Recently, a debate has propped up regarding the compliance of the IT rules by the big social media giants like Facebook, Whatsapp, etc.

 Internet intermediaries  

Internet intermediaries can be described as entities that facilitate access to the internet or services on the internet (Association Progressive Communications 2014). For example, internet service providers, social media networks, search engines, etc. Generally, the intermediaries adopt a passive approach to the content they provide or host (unlike book publishers).  Since they generally do not have editorial control over the content, countries are encouraged to enact safe harbor protections which offer immunity to intermediaries from criminal liability. In India, the safe harbor provisions have been defined under Section 79 of the IT Act. 

Need of the IT Rules 

 Curb on terrorism: 

These platforms are being used for terrorist activities by recruiting people, financing of the activities. The rules will help to ensure the accountability of these platforms. 

 Ensure rule of law:

 The platforms have themselves appropriated the role of court where they are judging what is freedom of speech and what is not.  

Ensure sovereignty: 

Currently, these giants do not have any accountability towards the Indian government for any illegal content. The rules will help in bringing the application of the legal framework towards these giants. 

 Curtail fake news: 

  • These platforms are increasingly being used to peddle fake news. 
  • The algorithms used by these platforms to optimize views and advertisements often fail to distinguish between relevant or useful content and abusive content and fake news, thereby amplifying them in very little or no time.

Supreme Court Verdict regarding regulations of Social Media 

  • The Supreme Court in 2018, in the Tehseen S. Poonawalla v/s Union of India case, directed the government to curb and stop the dissemination of explosive messages and videos on various social media platforms which have a tendency to incite mob violence and lynching of any kind. 
  • The Court in 2017 observed that the government may frame necessary guidelines to eliminate child pornography, rape and gang rape imageries, videos, and sites in content hosting platforms and other applications.
  • The Rules 2021  Rules also now permit the intermediaries to take down any unlawful information on a voluntary basis.  

Each significant social media intermediary is required to establish a grievance redressal mechanism and appoint three officers:

 o A Chief Compliance Officer who shall be responsible for compliance of the Information Technology Act and the rules framed thereunder.

 o Nodal Contact Person who shall be responsible for communication with law enforcement agencies 

o a Resident Grievance Officer who shall be responsible for the grievance redressal mechanism.  

  • All these officers are required to be residents of India. 
  • Another obligation cast upon these intermediaries is to enable the identification of the „first originator‟ of any information on its platform. 
  • Removal of non-consensual intimate pictures within 24 hours,  Publication of compliance reports to increase transparency,  Setting up of a dispute resolution mechanism for content removal.

Significance of the IT rules  

  • The IT Rules 2021 aim to empower ordinary users of social media platforms and OTT platforms with a mechanism for redressal and timely resolution of their grievances. 
  • Special emphasis has been given to the protection of women and children from sexual offenses, fake news, and another misuse of social media.
  •   Identification of the “first originator of the information” would be required in case of an offense related to the sovereignty and integrity of India.  The rules are framed in accordance with the supreme court guidelines.


  •  It goes beyond the purview of IT act -2000.
  • It controls the digital media also which was outside of IT act. 
  • An intermediary is now supposed to take down content within 36 hours upon receiving orders from the Government.
  • This deprives the intermediary of fair recourse in the event that it disagrees with the Government‟s order due to a strict timeline.
  •   It places fetters upon free speech by fixing the Government as the ultimate adjudicator of objectionable speech online. 
  • These Rules undermine the right to privacy by imposing a traceability requirement. 
  • Traceability requirements will also render all the data from these conversations vulnerable to attack from ill-intentioned third parties. 

Way Forward:

 Uniform Application of Law: The laws to combat unlawful content are already in place. What is required is their uniform application.  

Deliberating with Stakeholders: The solution to ongoing criticism about these rules is to start afresh with the publication of a white paper. 

 Statutory Backing: After that, if regulation is still deemed to be necessary, then it must be implemented through legislation that is debated in Parliament instead of relying upon executive rule-making powers.  

Expediting Data Protection Law: Making platforms share more information could prove counterproductive in a country where the citizens still do not have a data privacy law to guard themselves against excesses committed by any party. In this context, there is a need to expedite the passing of the personal data protection bill, 2019.

Download Plutus IAS Daily Current Affairs of 17th July 2021

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