Bangladesh bringing social media, OTT platforms under increased scrutiny

The draft regulations will give the authorities an opportunity to take action against any digital content

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All digital platforms, including social media and over-the-top (OTT) media services, are set to come under strict government supervision as a guideline is on the cards.

The detailed regulations for digital content will not only be applied to social media firms, intermediaries, and their users but also to digital media websites. 

The government will have the power to scrutinize any digital content on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp or OTT platforms like Bongo, Bioscope, and Hoichoi as well as online news portals. 

The regulators will be able to block public access to any information in case of emergency and suggest legal action under the Digital Security Act 2018 as well, according to the draft.

“We will talk to all the stakeholders in this regard. We had meetings with social media companies as well,” said Shyam Sunder Sikder, chairman of Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC).

Pressure from different governments has been mounting on tech giants to comply with local laws due to the alleged use of social media to spread hatred and incite violence.

Asked if the social media giants agreed with the legal framework, the BTRC chairman said: “National security, peace is our first priority. They need to comply anyhow.”

He drew examples of India and Australia where social media and online operation have been brought under a legal framework recently.

“Hopefully we will implement this within six months. Contents and all activities on the internet will be under regulation finally. If the government wants, this can be turned into law in future as well,” Shyam Sunder Sikder said.

Reason behind the regulation

The government claims that the regulation is aimed at tackling content or activity on online platforms that harm individual users or threatens national security, promotes discrimination, depiction of illegal or harmful substances, imitable behaviour, nudity, language, sex, violence, fear, threat, horror and other such concerns.

The prime focus is on creating a system for digital platform users to register a complaint, get it redressed within a defined timeline. 

In the last few years, the government on several occasions received unsatisfactory responses from the tech giants on removing objectionable content as they were not legally bound to do so. 

According to government sources, the regulation, titled “Regulation for Digital, Social Media and OTT Platforms, 2021”, has been drafted by a committee of BTRC following a Supreme Court directive.

It will go through a further fine-tuning process after receiving stakeholders’ opinions.  

According to statistics from NapoleonCat, a Polish-based social media management platform, Bangladesh has over 52 million Facebook users, 45 million Messenger users, and four million Instagram users as of December 2021.

StatCounter, a Dublin, Ireland based web traffic analysis website, says in Bangladesh, of the social media market share, 92.76% goes to Facebook, 5.36% for YouTube, 0.57% for Twitter, 0.49% for LinkedIn.

Keeping evidence of removed content

The social media platforms will not host any content that is unlawful. However, if they do that unknowingly and receive notices through court orders or the BTRC, they must be removed within a maximum of 72 hours.

They need to preserve the removed information for 180 days or more to be used for legal proceedings against the user.

When an intermediary collects information from a user for registration it will retain the information for 180 days after any cancellation or withdrawal.

Providing users’ info by 72 hours

The social media platforms will be bound to share the info to verify identity for the purpose of prevention, detection, investigation, prosecution of offences under any law. 

The government authorities can seek such information after clearly stating the purpose.

The online platforms can develop, produce, distribute or employ technological means for the purpose of performing the act of securing the computer resource and information contained therein, according to the draft regulation.

Appointment of resident complaint officer

The social media platforms will need to appoint a resident complaint officer in Bangladesh and make their contact details visible on sites and apps so that users can lodge complaints about any violation of cyber security. There will also be physical contact addresses in Bangladesh.

The officer will acknowledge the complaint within 24 hours and dispose of it within 20 days.

The officer will also receive and acknowledge any order, notice or directive issued by the government, any competent authority or a court of competent jurisdiction.

Appointing compliance officer

Within three months of imposing the regulations, the platforms will have to appoint compliance officers. 

They will be responsible for ensuring compliance with the regulation and will be liable in any proceedings relating to any relevant third-party information, data or communication link made available or hosted by the intermediary.

Coordination with law enforcers, BTRC

There will be an agent appointed by the social media platforms for round-the-clock coordination with the government.

Messenger, WhatsApp to identify offenders

The regulation will bind social media platforms that offer messaging services to identify the original source of the information.

The authorities may ask for the information if they feel that the message is related to the sovereignty and integrity of Bangladesh, the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, or public order, or of incitement to an offence relating to the above or in relation with rape, sexually explicit material or child sexual abuse material, punishable with imprisonment for a term of not less than five years.

If the origin of the information is outside Bangladesh, the source of the information will be deemed to be anyone who shares that information inside the country.

Proactive online platforms

The social media intermediary will deploy technology-based measures to identify previously removed content that depict unlawful activities.

Denying access to information

As per the regulation, in case of emergency, the BTRC can block information or part and submit a specific recommendation in writing to the director general of the Digital Security Agency under Section 8 of the Digital Security Act, 2018.

Ethics code for digital news, OTT platforms

Publishers will have to follow an ethics code to release content online. 

The Ministry of Information will publish directives in this regard.

The ministry will also appoint an officer to issue directions, according to the draft regulation.

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