Govt may make Facebook, Twitter ‘accountable’ for fake news

Govt may make Facebook, Twitter ‘accountable’ for fake news


Govt may make Facebook, Twitter ‘accountable’ for fake news


The move is part of proposed amendments to the rules under the Information Technology Act, which gives the administration prerogative to spell out compliances not specified under the parent law

The government is discussing a proposal to make intermediaries such as Facebook and Twitter “accountable” for fake news and the handling of unlawful/harmful information, people familiar with the matter told Hindustan Times.

The move is part of proposed amendments to the rules under the Information Technology Act, which gives the administration the prerogative to spell out additional compliances not specified under the parent law.

“ The proposal is part of the amendment that is still under consultation,” said an official familiar with the matter. “The government wants intermediaries to be a lot more proactive in addressing fake news. 

The onus is on them to check the veracity of facts and expeditiously address them, whether it is reported or not. They can employ fact checkers if they want to.”

While the draft does not characterise fake news in particular, the official quoted above said two clauses are meant to effectively crack down on the problem. One of these says an intermediary cannot “deceive or mislead the addressee about the origin of the message or knowingly and intentionally communicate any information which is patently false or misleading in nature but may reasonably be perceived as a fact”.

The other states flags information that “is patently false and untrue, and is written or published in any form, with the intent to mislead or harass a person, entity or agency for financial gain or to cause any injury to any person”.

The draft includes several amendments and is known as the draft amendment to the IT Rules, 2021. It was circulated for public feedback in June, but that it would also apply to so-called fake news has only now been clarified by officials.

Soon after the draft was shared, it was mired in controversy for proposing a grievance appeals committee for social media content moderation that would be ultimately headed by the government – a suggestion that companies and activists said would give the administration disproportionate power to police speech.

The person quoted in the first instance said the government wants to ensure an open, trusted and accountable internet, a message the administration has repeatedly asserted.

Some experts believe that this is needed -- especially given the lack of accountability of large technology firms that function like media companies, but without any of the required checks in place.

NS Nappinai, Supreme Court advocaye and founder of Cyber Saathi, said : “Laws and regulations to check fake news and disinformation are certainly needed but the same has to balance safe harbour rights vested in Intermediaries through the parent act with speedy takedown compliance. 

It is trite to clarify that where a platform ‘knowingly or intentionally misleads” it in any event is not protected under the exemption under Section 79 of IT Act”.

“ Any law proposed has to delineate such instances from those of dissemination of third party content for which Intermediaries have protections under parliament enacted law, and with respect to which the executive cannot exceed its remit under delegated legislation” Nappinai explained.

Another experts said it may be hard also because it opens up all content to policing.

“We’re often dealing with things that may be neither fake nor news. But more importantly, the term has lost meaning over the last 4-5 years as it has been used to dismiss any opposing views/opinions,” said Prateek Waghre, policy director at the Internet Freedom Foundation adding that there was a definitional issue with the term ‘fake news’.

He added that”this opens up room for selective enforcement, as has been the case with many ostensibly ‘anti-disinformation laws’ around the world (e.g. Singapore’s PoFMA, or see Russia’s selective enforcement of whatever laws they have on their books),” he added.

As per current Indian laws, content that poses a threat to national security and integrity of India, or is a threat to public order, can be dealt with by the government under section 69A of the information technology act. 

The ministry of electronics and information technology, which is responsible for passing the orders, informed Parliament that over 6,000 such posts were taken down during 2021. The number stood at close to 10,000 in 2020.

The government run a fact-checking mechanism under its Press Information Bureau of India.

To be sure, disinformation is being seen as a significant national security threat worldwide. Fake news and disinformation have also been a crucial subject for the government, with the national security strategy, which has been pending for a year, also recommending a mechanism to address it. 

It proposes that there should a multistakeholder framework to check propaganda, deception, disinformation and “adversarial narratives” being peddled on their websites of social media companies.

The policy also wants a mechanism to address hate mongering, hate speech and disinformation on the platforms.

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