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India to Implement Fact-Checking Protocol for Online Posts on Government Matters

business . 

The Indian government has established a government-run agency tasked with monitoring and conducting fact-checking for government-related matters on social media platforms. This move comes despite significant apprehension expressed by tech giants about such initiatives last year.

On Wednesday, the Ministry of Electronics and IT announced through a gazette notification that it will amend the IT Rules 2021 to formalize the proposal of designating the fact-checking unit of the Press Information Bureau (PIB) as the official authority responsible for verifying government-related information on social media platforms. This move aims to address concerns regarding the dissemination of misinformation and ensure the accuracy of government-related content circulating online.

According to the Ministry of Electronics and IT, tech companies and other entities serving over 5 million users in India will now be obligated to exert “reasonable efforts” to prevent the dissemination of deceptive or misleading information related to government matters. This requirement applies to the display, storage, transmission, or sharing of such information on their platforms.

As per the provisions outlined in 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 has officially designated the Fact Check Unit under the Press Information Bureau of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting as the authorized fact-check unit of the Central Government. This designation is applicable to any business conducted by the Central Government, as stated in the gazette notification.

The Fact-Checking Unit of the Press Information Bureau, established by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting in 2019, was created with the objective of debunking misinformation related to government affairs. However, the unit has faced criticism for inaccurately categorizing information that is critical of the government as misleading.

The Asia Internet Coalition, comprising major tech entities such as Meta, Amazon, Google, and Apple, issued a cautionary statement last year. They expressed concerns that relying solely on a government agency like the Press Information Bureau for fact-checking government affairs, without clearly defining its role or implementing checks and balances, could lead to potential misuse. They argued that this approach might significantly infringe on press freedom.

The Editors Guild of India, a prominent organization representing journalists across the country, along with comedian Kunal Kamra, has taken legal action against New Delhi’s proposal. Their petition raises concerns about the potential consequences of the government’s decision to entrust the fact-checking responsibility solely to the Press Information Bureau, a government agency. They argue that such a move could pave the way for censorship and hinder freedom of the press, as it may lead to biased fact-checking and suppression of dissenting voices.

Kunal Kamra, known for his outspoken views on political matters, has been vocal about the need to safeguard free speech and democracy in India. His involvement in challenging the government’s decision underscores the gravity of the situation and the widespread apprehension among citizens about the erosion of democratic principles.

Additionally, industry groups such as the Asia Internet Coalition, representing major tech companies like Meta, Amazon, Google, and Apple, have also expressed reservations about the proposal. They have cautioned that relying solely on a government agency for fact-checking without clear checks and balances could lead to misuse and undermine press freedom.

Overall, the legal challenge mounted by the Editors Guild of India and Kunal Kamra reflects the growing concern among various stakeholders about the potential ramifications of the government’s move to regulate fact-checking on social media. It underscores the importance of upholding democratic values and ensuring transparency and accountability in the dissemination of information.

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