Adland Reacts To Revised IT Guidelines

The new IT rules' impact on the overall A&M industry and the advertiser front garner mixed responses from marketers

The Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology’s decision to release new rules for social media platforms and digital news outlets called the Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code, has created ripples in the media industry. These guidelines require all social media platforms with over 50 lakh users to set up a grievances redressal and compliance mechanism, submit monthly reports on the action on complaints and provide provisions for tracking the first originator of a message. The government informs that these IT rules are designed to prevent abuse and misuse of social media, and will empower users by providing a robust forum for grievance redressal.

Most of the companies have agreed to comply with the new laws, including Google, Twitter, Koo, Facebook, and will continue to submit their transparency report.

In an official statement by Twitter spokesperson, he states, “To keep our service available, we will strive to comply with applicable law in India. But, just as we do around the world, we will continue to be strictly guided by principles of transparency, a commitment to empowering every voice on the service, and protecting freedom of expression and privacy under the rule of law. 

We plan to advocate for changes to elements of these regulations that inhibit free, open public conversation. We will continue our constructive dialogue with the Indian Government and believe it is critical to adopt a collaborative approach. It is the collective responsibility of elected officials, industry, and civil society to safeguard the interests of the public.”

"We aim to comply with the provisions of the IT rules and continue to discuss a few of the issues which need more engagement with the government. Pursuant to the IT Rules, we are working to implement operational processes and improve efficiencies. Facebook remains committed to people’s ability to freely and safely express themselves on our platform," points a Facebook Spokesperson. 

Whatsapp on the other hand, took to the Indian Government to show its disapproval. It argued that the rules will require it to track and trace every user’s messages in order to be prepared for legal requests, which is a violation of the Supreme Court’s right to privacy ruling of 2017.

Given the recent developments, the GoI staunchly defended that it does not intend to violate the right to privacy and that the rules have been weighed against the test of proportionality, which is an exception mentioned in the right to privacy ruling.

How Is The Adland Looking At It?

Among the several ramifications the new rules will have on ‘significant social media intermediaries’, it is also to impact the overall media industry in more ways than one. Chirag Sangai, Head of Client Partnerships, White Rivers Media asserts, “IT plays a very important role in gathering data to form insights for campaigns and eventually impacting the effectiveness of the campaign. IT is also the most vital factor for e-commerce and displaying creativity and carrying out / execution ideas in the ever-growing digital world. With mar-tech also heavily dependent on IT, any rules changes on that front will impact the advertisers crucially for any strategy that they may have planned. Having said that, all advertisers are agile and have been adapting to these changes swiftly these days.”

Lloyd Mathias, Business Strategist and former marketer at PepsiCo, Motorola & HP Asia Pacific agrees that these rules will majorly affect Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, YouTube, Twitter among the major platforms. Having said that, for now, there will be no impact on advertisers who will continue to use these platforms as before. “Nothing in the new IT Rules has any bearing on advertisers in these platforms. While this is a regulatory issue, how the platforms adapt to and work with the new regulations will determine their onward course and advertisers plans,” he adds. 

Surbhi Allagh, Creative Director, Sociowash believes that regulation is the need of the hour. “With so much fake news, regulation is definitely the need of the hour and that’s something these platforms have been doing as well, given the spread of misinformation around COVID. But when the new guidelines call-out rules such as tracing the source of content, it seems like we are over-regulating these channels as well as hampering the privacy of its users. 

Additionally, if we look at the OTT space, it has had its fair share of controversies over the last few years. But by adding regulation to it, we might see a huge spike in the number of content disputes with multiple filters on the content we consume with so much ease,” she shares. 

Angad Singh Manchanda, CEO & Co-founder, Chimp&z Inc expects an increased scope of adaptability. “If you're a digital agency managing news portals, media sites, or OTT platforms, you will have to spend a lot of time studying the detailed and specific new rules to decide what kind of content can go up. This will directly impact the kind of content that is being created for social channels. For starters, the content teams will have to be re-trained and briefed to adhere to the laws and ensure they follow the same, failing which may result in serious complications. This move will impact memes and trending formats that creators/agencies have been creating democratically till now. The ideas will have to be filtered out to suit the new guidelines. It can be expected that the first 30 days may be a little confusing for agencies, after which like all other things of the digital age, we will get used to the terms and start functioning in the limitations of the law," he comments.

However, Ratnapriya Mitra, VP- Client Services, Blink Digital assesses that a possible ban of social platforms like Twitter, Facebook, IG will pose a huge challenge to brands and marketers. “Loss of data, sharp and targeted reach that only popular social platforms can offer and a relatively lower cost medium of messaging and real-time consumer engagement, will be impacted.

The pandemic saw consumers spending more time online. Social media has been gaining increasing relevance on how businesses find and communicate with their audiences. A world without social media now sets us back again. Brands will have to completely rethink platforms and strategies in such a scenario,” she emphasizes. 

It is natural that these laws will imply the A&M industry to collect and use data in ways that are both ethical and compliant. A data breach has multiple costs and entails various risks, including financial risk, legal risk, compliance risk and the biggest of all, reputational risk. Privacy is being weaponized and any laxity on behalf of a business could have serious consequences including loss of reputation and the possibility of legal action. Thus, Ad revenues may see a shrink for the next 6 months as brands would want to see how the new laws will shape. In the meanwhile, the jump in advertisers moving to OTT platforms may also be seen, believe experts.