Government exploring tech interventions to curb fake news

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New Delhi | Published: August 8, 2018 5:15:47 AM

The government is considering steps to control the spread of fake news and provocative content on the internet, especially social media platforms, which is believed to instigate incidents like lynching in many parts of the country.

fake news, curb fake news, social media platforms, department of telecommunications, Facebook, whatsapp, IT ActBlocking apps such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Telegram, Instagram etc in particular areas where incidents of social tensions/violent incidents are reported for specified periods is one option.

The government is considering steps to control the spread of fake news and provocative content on the internet, especially social media platforms, which is believed to instigate incidents like lynching in many parts of the country. It is exploring all possible technological interventions which could aid law enforcement agencies to identify the origin of such content and policy options to make popular social media apps more accountable on controlling fake news and socially sensitive propaganda on their platforms.

A senior government official said, “We are exploring all possible measures to control hate messages. There is a general consensus among stakeholder ministries that ensuring public order and preventing loss of life and property is paramount. While it is government’s job to ensure technological developments do not take a backseat, it is also its duty to maintain law and order”.

Blocking apps such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Telegram, Instagram etc in particular areas where incidents of social tensions/violent incidents are reported for specified periods is one option. Sources said government officials have held several meetings with WhatsApp, Facebook and others on ways to tackle fake messages on their platforms. “What can act as a deterrent for anti-social elements from spreading such content or for companies to take extra measures to stop it is also being discussed,” the official quoted above said.

The department of telecommunications (DoT) last month asked telecom operators, internet service providers etc for their inputs on blocking apps like Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp and Telegram, among others, under Section 69A of the IT Act. The communication was sent after MeitY and law enforcement agencies raised the issue of blocking certain mobile apps.

A DoT source said it’s not about blocking apps but the larger issue of fake provocative content. MeitY informed DoT blocking such apps during emergency situations is difficult as they work via multiple IP addresses and on different protocols, hence the need for a reasonable good solution to protect national security. When MeitY secretary Ajay Sawhney was asked about such a communication by DoT on Tuesday, he told reporters, “There is no specific reference. But when there is an issue, we look at it in accordance with the Information Technology (IT) Act. IT Act puts all kinds of obligations on platforms and intermediaries. So based on that we do what is possible”.

On MeitY’s talks with WhatsApp to identify the origin of fake messages, he said the company has taken a number of steps. MeitY has also requested other social media apps to make sure that flagging of concerns is possible within their platforms.

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