The government will setup a fact-checking module under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) to combat the spread of fake news, reported The Times of India on November 16. This module will be called FACT — find, assess, create and target. This development comes after a fake letter in which PM Narendra Modi congratulates former Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi over the Ayodhya verdict circulated in Bangladesh.

The letter has the appearance of being bondafide, it is a pale yellow colour with “Prime Minister” on the letter head, and is undersigned by PM Modi. The letter is addressed to former Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice SA Bobde, Justice DY Chandrachud, Justice Ashok Bhushan and Justice S Abdul Nazeer. All the judges were on the bench that delivered the Ayodhya verdict on November 9. It said that the Ayodhya verdict was a “stupendous contribution to Hindu Rashtra” and “Hindus will be grateful to you and your team for your commendable and memorable decision, which will make a new history for Hindu Rashtra”.

The Minister of External Affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said the letter was an attempt to undermine the friendship between India and Bangladesh. The Indian High Commission in Dhaka also issued a statement and called the letter “completely fake and malicious”.

How the fact checking module will work?

The government has laid out four principles — find, assess, create and target (FACT) — to combat fake news. The module will first be confirmed by Indian Information Service (IIS) officers, the TOI report said. The officers are expected to trace online news sources and publicly available social media posts round the clock for any potential fake news. The government officers will also monitor content posted by online influencers.

The ministry is also expected to watch for themes or stories promoting false and misleading information, especially related to the government or its supported agencies. Besides reviewing content and raising alarm over any false news or misinformation, the FACT team will publish appropriate content to counter the narrative, the report said. The FACT check module will focus on online and digital content, but will later track news on electronic media also.

Govt’s previous moves against fake news

In June, Press Information Bureau (PIB) had also decided to set up a fact-checking unit to identify and counter any fake news about the government and its policies circulating on social media platforms, but did not set a deadline for it, Hindustan Times had reported. The team is supposed to have PIB officials and contracted employees, to monitor Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube to flag fake news and news may lead to social unrest, the report said.

In 2018, MIB had constituted a committee to frame rules to regulate news portals and media websites, and later disbanded it. During the Lok Sabha elections 2019, the Election Commission of India (ECI) had worked with social media platforms to identify and remove problematic content. A total of 900 posts were removed, of which 650 posts were taken down by Facebook for voter misinformation, hate speech, violation of the model code of conduct, and public morality and decency. Similarly, Twitter took down 220 posts, while ShareChat, Google, and WhatsApp removed 31 posts, 5 posts, and 3 posts respectively.