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All you need to know about Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021

Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021

The government of India recently announced the new code of ethics under IT Rules, 2021 for social media platforms and OTT (Over the top) platforms. This has been framed by the government in exercise of powers under Section 87 (2) of the IT Act 2000[1] and in supersession of earlier IT (Intermediary Guidelines) Rules, 2011. In this article, we shall look at the key highlights of Guidelines for intermediaries and digital media ethics.

An overview of the notification (Guidelines for intermediaries and Digital media ethics code) released by the Government

The notification basically contains rules that require the social media giants to take down unlawful content within a prescribed time period of being served either a court order or notice by a government agency.

Further, the notification permits social media platforms to work in India as the government wants, but they are required to follow the constitution and Indian Laws. The rules also empower common users of social media by embodying a mechanism for grievance redressal.

The rules regarding digital media ethics and OTT focus more on in-house and self-regulation. Moreover, the new guidelines for Social Media/intermediaries requires due diligence to be followed by intermediaries and additional due diligence for significant social media intermediaries.

What was the need for introducing Information Technology (Guidelines for intermediaries and Digital media ethics code) Rules?

As per the analysis regarding the social media platforms, the social media platform that has the highest number of user base includes-

  • WhatsApp users- 53 crore
  • Youtube users- 44.8 crore
  • Facebook users- 41 crore
  • Instagram users- 21 crore
  • Twitter users- 1.75 crore
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The expansion of social media has empowered the citizens however it has also had some serious concerns and consequences.

As per the notification released by the government, the most important reasons for the introduction of these guidelines has been due to the-

Need of introducing IT (Guidelines for intermediaries and Digital media ethics code) Rules
  • The spread of fake news;
  • Blackmailing of women through obnoxious content relating to them threatening their dignity;
  • Misuse of social media with a view to settle corporate rivalries;
  • Usage of abusive languages and defamatory content or hurting the religious sentiments of people;
  • Increasing misuse of social media by criminals for recruitment of terrorists, circulation of obscene content, financial frauds, incitement of violence, etc.
  • Lack of transparency and absence of grievance redressal mechanism.

All these above-mentioned cases has furthered the need for a new set of rules for intermediaries and digital media ethics. 

New Guidelines for Social Media Intermediaries

Social Media Intermediaries- Categories

Based on the number of users on social media, intermediaries have been divided into the following groups-

  • Social Media Intermediaries;
  • Significant Social Media Intermediaries.

Due diligence

Further due diligence is to be followed by these intermediaries, and if intermediaries don’t follow due diligence, safe harbour provisions shall not apply to them. The safe harbour provision are defined under the IT Act and protects social media intermediaries by giving them protection from legal prosecution for any content posted on their platforms.  

Grievance Redressal Mechanism

Further grievance redressal mechanism has been made mandatory. Intermediaries shall appoint a grievance officer in order to deal with complaints and share the name and contact details of the officers. Grievance officer is required to acknowledge the complaint within 24 hours and resolve the same within 15 days from its receipt.

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In order to ensure online safety and users’ dignity, intermediaries shall remove or disable access within 24 hours of receipt of complaints that comprises of contents that exposes the private parts of individuals, shows the individual in full or partial nudity or in sexual act, or is in the nature of impersonation.

These types of complaints may be filed either by the individual or by any other person on his or her behalf.

Read our article:RBI Grievance Redressal Mechanism in Banks: A Framework

Additional due diligence for Significant Social Media Intermediaries

  • Need to appoint Chief Compliance Officer, a nodal contact person and a resident grievance officer and all of them should be Indian resident.
  • Need to publish a compliance report monthly specifying the details of complaints received and action taken on the complaints and details of contents removed.
  •  Significant Social Media Intermediaries providing services in the nature of messaging shall enable identification of the originator of the information. It is required only for prevention, detection, investigation, and prosecution of an offence relating to sovereignty, integrity of India, the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign state or public order, or incitement to an offence related to the above or related with rape, sexually explicit material or child sexual abuse material punishable with minimum 5 years imprisonment.

Removal of Unlawful Information

If an intermediary receives information in the form of an order of the court or being notified by the government or its agencies through an authorized officer, it should not host or publish any information that is prohibited under law relating to the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, etc.

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Guidelines for News Publishers and OTT platforms and Digital Media

For OTT Platforms

  • OTT platforms would self classify the content into aged based categories- U, U/A 7+, U/A 13+, U/A 16+, and A.
  • Platforms are needed to implement parental locks for U/A 13+ and Adult contents.
  • They are required to display the classification rating specific to each content or programme and advising on viewer discretion.

For News Publishers on Digital Media

  • To observe norms of journalistic conduct and programme code under the Cable TV networks regulation Act 1995;
  • Publisher is required to appoint a grievance redressal officer;
  • There may be one or more than one self-regulatory bodies of publishers;
  • This body shall oversee the publishers’ adherence to the code of ethics and address grievances.
  • The IB Ministry shall formulate an oversight mechanism.


The new guidelines for intermediaries and digital media ethics has been notified. Part II of these rules shall be administered by the Ministry of Electronics and IT, whereas Part III shall be administered by the Ministry of information and Broadcasting.

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