In a major blow to fake news circulators, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) has said in a proposed amendment to the IT Rules 2021 that news pieces found to be “fake” or “false” by the Press Information Bureau’s fact check wing needs to be taken down from social media platforms.
The new proposal introduced under the section ‘Due Diligence by Intermediaries and Grievance Redressal Mechanism’ of IT Rules 2021 asserts that intermediaries “shall make reasonable” efforts to not “host, display, upload, modify, publish, transmit” such information (identified as “fake” by PIB) on platforms like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. The intermediaries will have to honour the due diligence for them in order to enjoy safe harbour provisions of the IT Act 2000, which provides them legal immunity from third party content they host.
Reportedly, the language used in the proposal also suggests that it may not just be PIB that stays authorised to check online news content in future, but other entities may also get entitled to mark news items as fake.
The draft amendment, while describing cases in which the content may be taken down from online platforms, stated that if it is “identified as fake or false by the fact check unit at the Press Information Bureau of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting or other agency authorised by the central government for fact checking or in respect of any business of the central government, by its department in which such business is transacted under the rules of business made under clause (3) of article 77 of the Constitution”.
The proposed amendment is being seen as a step towards dealing with the menace of fake news in the country. This is because so far, there has been an absence of proper official mechanism in order to control the spread of fake news. In this view, the proposed amendment can have far-reaching effects, when it comes to censorship of news items.
MeitY introduced these draft amendments to the IT Rules 2021 on 17th January 2023 as it extended the time period that had been approved for public consultation on regulations for online gaming platforms.