The government wants social media intermediaries to take up onus when it comes to stopping the spread of fake news in India. This comes on the back of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting ordering YouTube to block 35 news channels, and two websites which were involved in spreading anti-India fake news in a coordinated manner over digital media. “Under the IT Act Section 69 (A), we have blocked digital mediums such as social media channels as well as websites to block the spread of misinformation. This is a war of misinformation against India, and intermediaries such as Facebook and YouTube need to take more steps towards blocking these channels not just in India but also across the world,” Apurva Chandra, secretary, Minister of Information and Broadcasting, said at a press briefing on Friday.
Furthermore, the inter-ministerial committee which usually is consulted before blocking such accounts consists of representatives from the Department of Women and Child Development, Department of Defense, Department of Information Technology along with digital media experts to assess content and consider it anti-India content. Interestingly, the secretary stated that the committee does not go through individual social media posts but rather brings channels which have broadcast policy under their scanner.
To give a perspective, the YouTube accounts blocked by the Ministry had a total subscriber base of over a crore and 20 lakh, and their videos had over 130 crore views. Additionally, two Twitter accounts, two Instagram accounts, and one Facebook account have also been blocked by the government for being involved in spreading coordinated anti-India disinformation over the internet.
Vide five separate orders issued under rule 16 of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, the Ministry has ordered to block these Pakistan based social media accounts and websites. Indian intelligence agencies were closely monitoring these social media accounts and websites, and flagged them to the Ministry for immediate action.
The 35 accounts blocked by the Ministry were all operating from Pakistan, and were identified to be part of four coordinated disinformation networks. These include the Apni Duniya Network operating 14 YouTube channels, and Talha Films Network operating 13 YouTube channels. A set of four channels, and a set of two other channels were also found to be acting in synchronisation with each other.
The government claims that all these networks appeared to be operated with a single goal of spreading fake news oriented towards the Indian audience. The channels which were part of a network used common hashtags and editing styles, and were being operated by common persons, and cross promoted each other’s content. Some of the YouTube channels were being operated by anchors of Pakistani TV news channels.
The recent action taken by the Government follows the blocking of 20 YouTube channels and two websites in December 2021 when the emergency powers under the IT Rules, 2021 were first utilised to act against such anti-India fake news networks.