India has proposed a draft rule that would require social media platforms to take down content that has been “fact-checked” and deemed false by the Press Information Bureau (PIB) and its fact checking unit.
The PIB is a nodal body under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting for news updates, which also has its own fact-checking unit.
The proposed amendment comes from the Ministry of Electronics and IT alongside changes in policies for online gaming intermediaries.
Applies to the whole technology stack
As per Rule 3(1)(b)(v) of the amended version of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 202, an intermediary shall not be allowed to publish information that “deceives or misleads the addressee about the origin of the message or knowingly and intentionally communicates any misinformation” that has been “identified as fake or false by the fact check unit at the Press Information Bureau.
The proposed rule also says platforms should make “reasonable efforts” to prevent users from posting content deemed fake or false by the PIB. Any content that has been deemed “fake” by the PIB’s fact-checking unit will have to be taken down by all platforms.
“Beyond intermediaries, it would apply to the entirety of the technology stack, including hosting service providers and internet service providers,” Prateek Waghre, policy director at the Internet Freedom Foundation was quoted as saying by the Indian Express newspaper.
PIB the sole arbiter of truth?
If accepted, the new rule will make the PIB the sole arbiter of truth in India on which online information is accurate or misleading. That said, the rule also says the government may authorize entities other than the PIB unit to mark news items as fake.
Tanmay Singh, a senior advocate associated with the Internet Freedom Foundation, told ThePrint that the change would directly impact the fundamental right to speech and expression of news publishers.
“They will operate as content take-down and censorship by agencies which are not currently statutorily empowered to take down online content or news. Nor can this power be created by executive orders or Rules framed by MeitY. Further, the proposed amendments create an entirely new procedure for internet censorship than what is statutorily prescribed under Section 69A of the IT Act, which empowers MeitY to order the takedown of content in certain enumerated and specific conditions,” Singh was quoted as saying by ThePrint.
The PIB’s fact check unit has debunked several rumours that circulate on social media platforms like WhatsApp and Twitter. However, it has also been issuing denials on behalf of the government in response to news reports.
Notably, the unit once called a news report “false” on the basis of an official response of the Indian government.
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