Social media platforms and other intermediaries on the Internet are now required to make sure that “fake news” articles about the Union Government, which have been declared as such by the Press Information Bureau (PIB), are taken down from their platforms when they are alerted to such posts.
The changes were notified on April 6, 2023 evening through the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Amendment Rules, 2023, amending the IT Rules, 2021. Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MIB) sources had earlier told The Hindu that the fact check unit would reach out to relevant government departments to get their view on whether a piece of news is fake or not, and take a call accordingly.
Minister of State for Electronics and Information Technology Rajeev Chandrasekhar outlined a defence of the proposal in a press conference here on Wednesday: “What the Government of India is saying [in these Rules] is that if there is an aggrieved party, and a party that is causing the aggrievement, then Section 79 [of the Information Technology Act, 2000] will not be a safe harbour to prevent a dispute from being adjudicated in the courts,” Mr. Chandrasekhar said. In other words, platforms will not be required to take down content due to this Rule alone, but they will not enjoy the legal immunity that they currently benefit from for content posted by their users. They can now be called as a party in court proceedings.
“So intermediaries who choose to continue to have that content — and it is within their right to do so — will only have the consequence of having to deal with the person who’s aggrieved by that content to deal with them in a court of law,” Mr. Chandrasekhar argued. “There is already an obligation under Section 3(1)(b)(v) [of the IT Rules] that you cannot have misinformation ... Nobody said anything in October when the Rules were notified,” he added. The IT Rules had then been amended to include a provision on social media companies avoiding fake news.
Mr. Chandrasekhar dismissed concerns that this amendment would lead to censorship of posts on social media platforms that are critical of the government. The Editors Guild of India said in a statement when the draft amendment was released for public comment that the Rules “basically serves to make it easier to muzzle the free press, and will give sweeping powers to the PIB ... to force online intermediaries to take down content that the government may find problematic.”
Social media companies recently submitted a proposal for regulating fake news, and the government is studying that proposal, Mr. Chandrasekhar said.