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This article titled ‘Regulations on OTT and Social Media Platforms: An Informal Discussion’ is written by Isha Jagetiya and discusses the need for regulations on OTT and social media platforms.
Regulations on OTT and Social Media Platforms: An Informal Discussion
In our daily life, we all interact with the law in various ways and, law governs our conduct and behaviour in society. Law ensures that while we interact with others, we, do not infringe their rights on the behest of enjoying our own and also stops the other person from doing the same.
There are a plethora of codes and regulations available today to regulate our daily life interactions with others but as times are changing there are new ways of interactions that are also taking shape in society. One of the most prominent of such spaces of interaction is – the Internet and more specifically, social media platforms and the OTT (Over The Top) Platforms.
Technology has made the world seem less vast and more approachable as with a click we can engage in conversations and discussions with people sitting very far from us. These social media platforms have truly become a boon for all of us in that sense. The OTT Platforms have also enabled us to view series and cinema from different regions and countries of the world on our phones and laptops and now even TVs.
There are at least a billion people using these platforms around the world, to communicate with each other. The development of these sites is recent as they exploded only in the last thirty years or so and so today there are not that number of laws existent for this space as compared to the ones for ‘IRL world’ (IRL means ‘In Real Life’).
This lack of rules has become a growing concern as alongside making the world seem small and being a space for letting out all our worries, this also has become a site (no pun intended) where someone constantly is infringing your rights and committing crimes.
This concern grows even more when you come to know that out of the majority of users of these sites are prepubescent kids and teenagers, who can be easily scarred because of these illegal actions of some careless and sometimes even, vile individuals on these platforms. These individuals basically have free reign to do whatever they want without the fear of any legal consequences as the Internet space is extremely vast and largely unregulated today.
Today there are a plethora of existing crimes that have spread their roots in the virtual expanse (cyber stalking, cyber terrorism and many more) and some other crimes that have come to life because of the Internet (hacking, malware dissemination and many more). Some of the major crimes are creating deep fakes, the rampant spread of fake news and rumours which if not quickly addressed can lead to very serious offences that can become an issue for the security of our country.
It is not like there are no laws that regulate the Internet today, we have cyber police today but their reach is not that much and they are largely under-resourced and unprepared for the sheer number of crimes happening every day on these platforms. There is a lack of portals or places to approach in case you feel that your right is infringed while using one of these sites.
There are many crimes happening that are predominantly sexual in nature like collection and distribution of child pornography, circulation of obscene content on various OTT platforms and much more. This has become truly alarming for many and even more so when we think of the considerably large population of users on the younger side.
The content that has been made for OTT Platforms has also become a reason for the worry for many as like with the social media platforms there are no regulators or censor boards for the content circulated on such platforms. For content on satellite mode and cable connections and films made for the theatres and cinema, there are censor boards or similar bodies around the world that classify films on various criteria – one of the major such criteria being what age group can watch the said content.
The content is often classified into categories like PG or PG 13 or U/A or A. There are not many such bodies or classifications for the content made solely for the purposes of OTT platforms. These boards and bodies classify the content released differentially like some of the countries’ boards are more conservative in the approach while some are more liberal.
The Indian Censor Board – Central Board of Film Certificate (CBFC) for example, has come under fire several times for unnecessarily taking out even slightly sexual scenes from the films in the name of ‘not culturally suitable or appropriate’, but these boards do reflect the socio-cultural atmosphere and ethical standards of the public of their respective countries.
While some may question even the existence or need of such bodies to be in place, I am of the opinion that such bodies are necessary and that younger audiences should not be exposed to overly sexual content freely. In my opinion, the demand for certain regulations on these platforms is valid. 
Let’s talk about one such law or set of rules – the ‘New IT Rules’ of 2021 or more specifically Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Act, 2021. The new set of rules passed recently to impose a wide array of regulations and guidelines.
While the ambit of the new rules is very wide and extensive, I will focus here on mainly the rules and guidelines that the social media companies like WhatsApp, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, etc and OTT Platforms like Netflix, Hotstar, Amazon Prime, etc. would have to follow from now on.
The rules were controversial, to say the least. Many people argued that the rules were violative of Freedom of Press and Right to Privacy under Art. 19(1)(a) and Art. 21 respectively. There was a wave of protest against the said rules and these rules were also challenged at various High Courts around the country.
Let’s discuss the relevant guidelines and issues and contentions raised related to them first.
- Firstly, the social media companies are generally considered ‘intermediaries’ in the sense that they are not liable for anything that the users/customers post on the platform and they can’t be sued directly for that. The rules changed that by ordering all these social media Platforms to regulate the content in the sense that they need to set up a proper mechanism that users can use for grievance redressal. The lack of portals to approach was a big concern and to resolve that the companies were ordered to appoint a Grievance Redressal Officer (GRO) who should be of Indian Origin and that the companies would have to redress or resolve complaints about content that harms the dignity of the individual by taking down the content within 24 hours. This is a good move as it would truly provide a portal or place for users to raise their complaints.
- The companies like WhatsApp were especially against the rules of ‘traceability’ of the first originator of certain types of content. They argued that doing so would mean that they would have to collect personal data of the customers that would violate their policy of ‘end to end encryption’. The government then clarified that the option of looking into personal data of users or customers would only be availed in case of extremely serious offences like rape, terrorism, riots, etc. that directly pose a threat to the national security only.
- There was a contention as to when the government said the companies would have to regulate the content and take down certain content. There was a worry in many people’s minds that this rule can be misused by the government by ordering the companies to take down any anti-government opinions by calling it a threat to the sovereignty of the country. The companies like Twitter did raise objections against the fact that this can be a violation of free speech under Art. 19(1)(a). This provision does have an ambit of misuse by the government but at the same time, it is a necessary rule to stop the big problem of fake news that is rampant in our country.
- The other problem was with the regulation of content on OTT Platforms. Recently the content that is released on these platforms is much more mature and this does not have that many regulations and the censor board has directed them to classify the content in the categories – U, U/A 7+, U/A 13+, U/A 16+, A. This was viewed as something unreasonable as now the OTT platforms have to filter the content that is demanded that is more grounded and real content to something that is attuned to the social standards of ethics and morality.
In conclusion, there is a need to curb these platforms to protect the users that use them and while these rules may seem restrictive rather than regulatory right now but we have to understand that in order to live comfortably with respect for others, we have to accept that absolute sense of freedom is not available to anyone and certain restrictions are necessary.
3. Vikramjit Banerjee, The law applies to all – including big tech, The Indian Express, 26th November 2021, 4.00 p.m., Available Here.
4. Debopama Bhattacharya, The Information Technology (IT) Act, 2021, IDSA Comment, 27th November 2021, 3.00 p.m., Available Here.
5. Tanu Banerjee, Ishan Johri and Garima Kedia, New Rules for OTT Platforms: Regulation or Restriction?, Financial Express, 27th November 2021, 7.00 p.m., Available Here.
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