The Central government has decided to set up a “fact-check body” that will flag false information posted online about the Union government, PTI reported.
The Union Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeITy), on Thursday, April 7, notified amendments to the 2021 IT Rules that allow an entity formed by the Union government to decide whether information shared on social media platforms are ‘fake’ or not.
This will include news articles or videos published by any media organisation online. The new rule makes it obligatory for social media platforms, considered to be intermediaries, to “not share or host fake, false or misleading information in respect of any business of the Union government.” This basically means that once the fact checking entity of the government brands an article, video etc as false, fake or misleading, it can then ask social media platforms to remove it.
Social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook and other intermediaries will have to take down any information marked as “fake or misleading” by the body if they want to retain the “safe harbour” protections, which provide legal immunity to them against content uploaded by their users.
One of the primary amendments made to the rules, which has become controversial, is the appointment of a Fact-checking Unit to identify fake news. “These amendments have been drafted after holding widespread consultations with multiple stakeholders including parents, school teachers, academics, students, gamers and gaming industry associations, child rights bodies, etc,” MeITy said in a statement.
Union minister of state for Electronics and IT Rajeev Chandrasekhar told PTI that the government has decided to notify an entity through Meity which would be the fact-checker for all aspects of content online and content related to the government.
The Editors Guild of India, however, said it is “deeply disturbed” by the amendments and urged the IT ministry to withdraw the notification.
“In effect, the government has given itself absolute power to determine what is fake or not, in respect of its own work, and order take down,” the association said in a statement.
The Guild said the amendments will have “deeply adverse implications” for press freedom in the country.
EGI is disturbed by the amendments notified to the IT Rules 2021, by @GoI_MeitY giving itself authority to constitute a “fact checking unit”, with sweeping powers to determine what is “fake or false” wrt “business of Central Government”, and order take down to intermediaries. pic.twitter.com/8osEyM1RTS
— Editors Guild of India (@IndEditorsGuild) April 7, 2023
Digital rights body Internet Freedom Foundation also raised concerns, saying that assigning any unit of the government such “arbitrary [and] overbroad powers” to determine what is correct “bypasses the principles of natural justice”.
The Internet Freedom Foundation’s statement on the notification of the IT Amendment Rules, 2023.
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— Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) (@internetfreedom) April 6, 2023
The amendments allow the government to bypass Section 69A process for blocking content, the body added in a statement. “The notification of these amended rules cement the chilling effect on the fundamental right to speech and expression, particularly on news publishers, journalists, activists, etc,” the statement said.