India will fact-check online posts about government matters

India Will Fact Check Online Posts About Government Matters

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In India, a government-run agency will now monitor and undertake fact-checking for government related matters on social media even as tech giants expressed grave concerns about it last year.

The Ministry of Electronics and IT on Wednesday wrote in a gazette notification that it is amending the IT Rules 2021 to cement into law the proposal to make the fact checking unit of Press Information Bureau the dedicated arbiter of truth for New Delhi matters.

Tech companies as well as other firms that serve more than 5 million users in India will be required to “make reasonable efforts” to not display, store, transmit or otherwise share information that deceives or misleads users about matters pertaining to the government, the IT ministry said.

India’s move comes just weeks ahead of the general elections in the country.

“In exercise of the powers conferred by sub-clause (v) of clause (b) of sub-rule (1) of rule 3 of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, the Central Government hereby notifies the Fact Check Unit under the Press Information Bureau of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting as the fact check unit of the Central Government for the purposes of the said sub-clause, in respect of any business of the Central Government,” the gazette notification said.

The Ministry of Information and Broadcast established the fact-checking unit of Press Information Bureau in 2019 with the aim to dispel misinformation about government matters. The unit, however, has been criticized for falsely labeling information critical to the government as misleading.

Relying on a government agency such as the Press Information Bureau as the sole source to fact-check government business without giving it a clear definition or providing clear checks and balances “may lead to misuse during implementation of the law, which will profoundly infringe on press freedom,” Asia Internet Coalition, an industry group that represents Meta, Amazon, Google and Apple, cautioned last year.

The Editors Guild of India and comedian Kunal Kamra recently legally challenged New Delhi from moving ahead with the proposal. In a petition, Kamra cautioned that New Delhi’s move could create an environment that forces social media firms to welcome “a regime of self- interested censorship.”

Rajeev Chandrasekhar, Indian minister of state for IT, assured last year that the then-proposal wasn’t designed to censor journalism.


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