IT and telecom minister Prasad, in fact, has been having a running confrontation with social media firms on the need to share information with the government in a lawful manner in case there is such a need.
The Maharashtra cyber police did well to tie up with a fact-checking app, Logically, to detect fake news and bias ahead of the assembly elections; Logically was monitoring social media platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, and Instagram for violations of the Model Code of Conduct, and reporting these to the Election Commission. It is not clear how many such violations were reported this time around, but during the general elections, going by law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad’s reply in Parliament, a total of just 154 instances of fake news were detected by the Election Commission and reported to various platforms; given the kind of misinformation floating around on social media, the number looks quite small, suggesting the government has a long way to go when it comes to detecting and tackling fake news. Indeed, the government itself has been so worried about the proliferation of fake news, a year ago, it even asked all telecom service providers and internet service providers to explore how Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp, Telegram, etc, could be blocked; the IT secretary had, at that time, even said he expected all platforms to behave in a responsible manner.
IT and telecom minister Prasad, in fact, has been having a running confrontation with social media firms on the need to share information with the government in a lawful manner in case there is such a need. Interestingly, the same point was made in a letter to Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg by US Attorney General William Barr; the UK secretary of state, the US secretary of Homeland Security, and Australia’s home minister were other signatories to Barr’s letter.
While that is a larger battle that may not get resolved soon, the government would do well to keep engaging social media firms in finding solutions, and get more firms like. Logically on a common platform to help track fake news faster on a 24×7 basis; indeed, some social media firms are doing similar work, and the government should help build on that. Barr’s letter, in fact, said that more than 90% of the 18.4 million reports to the US National Centre for Missing & Exploited Children in 2018 were those made by Facebook (based on what it gleaned from people’s posts/messages); his letter, as it happens, was warning Facebook that such complaints wouldn’t be possible if the social network did end-to-end encryption of messages on it. WhatsApp, similarly, had tied up with factchecker BoomLive for detecting fake news, and even had the Hyderabad police on its app to do the same thing; those in the city could forward messages to the police on, say, a local gang of kidnappers, to get a confirmation. Ideally, nodal officers for all state police should be on the same fact-checking app, as should credible news organisations.