All news platforms based on WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook, Telegram, YouTube, Instagram, Public App and LinkedIn have been banned in at least six districts of Haryana, the Indian Express reported. Deputy Commissioners of Sonipat, Kaithal, Charkhi Dadri, Karnal, Narnaul and Bhiwani have reportedly imposed the ban, stating that “dissemination of unverified and misleading news from such platforms may disturb tranquillity in the society and may adversely affect the mental health of common man” during the COVID-19 pandemic. Violators of this order may invite jail term and penalty.

The service has been banned “till further orders” in all districts, but Karnal, where the DC has imposed a ban of 15 days, according to the Indian Express. The Karnal DC was also the latest to issue the ban, on July 10, and the Charkhi Dadri DC was the first to impose it, on May 12. The restrictions have been imposed under Section 188 of the IPC, Disaster Management Act 2005 and Epidemic Disease Act, 1957.  It is unclear if a particular incident led to these ban orders. It is also not clear how the ban will be enforced, and if a news website which also publishes links on platforms such as Twitter, Telegram or WhatsApp will be banned.

Sonipat’s DC argued that social media-based news platforms don’t have permission from the Information and Broadcasting Ministry to function as news channels. However, it is worth noting that currently, there are no provisions for social media news platforms to register as news outlets. “No social media platform in Sonipat has taken permission to function as a news channel. They neither got registration from the Directorate of Information and Public Relations of Haryana government nor from Commissioner of Information and Broadcasting Ministry of the Union government,” the Sonipat DC reportedly said in the ban order for the district.

“There is a possibility of [spread of] fear among a large section of the society in this abnormal circumstance of coronavirus pandemic because of intentional or unintentional fake news or wrong reporting from the news channels of social media…So it is necessary to get registered from any regulatory body for functioning of a social media platform as a news channel,” he added.

This development comes after the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, floated a tender to create a social media monitoring hub — essentially, an agency to provide “solutions and services” related to “fact verification and disinformation detection on social media platforms”. The agency will be tasked with verification of text-based content, image, videos, and identify geolocation and verify visual content, and identify fake news, and analyses web data against historical content, among other things.

Read: Indian government again proposes social media surveillance, this time in the name of fake news