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Exclusive: Read the government’s “fake news” advisory to social media companies

The government of India, in a May 7 advisory told social media companies to curb misinformation and fake news, and content that “that may affect public order and [be] unlawful in any way”. The advisory, a copy of which MediaNama has obtained in full via Right To Information request, and is published below, tells social media companies to warn users to not spread misinformation, and to “[i]ssue warning to imposters who misuse your platform and indulge in such fraudulent activities.” Word of the advisory was first broken by the Economic Times.

Going beyond the IT Rules

“Social media platforms are intermediaries as defined under section 2(1)(w) of the Information Technology Act, 2000 and are required to follow due diligence as prescribed in the IT (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 notified under section 79 of the IT Act,” the advisory points out, referring to the IT Rules that were notified in February.

It’s worth noting that, as per the due diligence requirements specified in the IT Rules, social media companies don’t have to proactively issue warnings to individual users about impersonation:

  • Section 3(1)(b) identifies the terms that “the rules and regulations, privacy policy or user agreement of the intermediary” should contain, including that users should not impersonate another person.
  • Section 3(1)(c) indicates that an intermediary shall “periodically inform its users, at least once every year, that in case of non-compliance with rules and regulations, privacy policy or user agreement for access” […] “it has the right to terminate the access or usage rights of the users”[…].

It is clear that with this advisory, the MEITY is “advising” social media companies to go above and beyond the IT Rules.

Additionally, while the letter mentions fraud and misinformation, its references to “sharing anonymous data” and “public order” may be a signal to social media companies to control narratives of the pandemic. Indeed, when the government ordered Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to block posts critical of the former’s handling of the pandemic, it anonymously used some of the same language. “All orders have been issued as they constitute content misinformation,” an unnamed official had claimed to the Hindustan Times.

Read the full advisory

The verbatim text of the advisory follows.

To
All Social media platforms

Subject: ADVISORY TO CURB FALSE NEWS / MISINFORMATION ON CORONA VIRUS

The Corona virus (Covid-19) outbreak has become a global concern with World Health Organisation declaring it a global health emergency. Countries across the world are trying their best to mitigate the spread of corona virus. While corona has created a hue and cry across the country today, it has been reported in media that there is a trend of circulation of misinformation, false / misleading news and sharing anonymous data related to Corona virus in various social media platforms creating panic among public.

2. It is pertinent to note that such fake or misleading news has the potential to impact that reliable sources of news / information are frequently drowned out by unverified information online. Also, it has been reported that impostors are exploiting the spread of Covid -19 in order to carry out fraud activities thereby claiming financial loss to the desperate people.

3. Social media platforms are intermediaries as defined under section 2(1)(w) of the Information Technology Act, 2000 and are required to follow due diligence as prescribed in the IT (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 notified under section 79 of the IT Act. They must inform their users not to host, display, upload, modify, publish, transmit, update or share any information that may affect public order and unlawful in any way.

4. Therefore, Intermediaries are urged to:

(i) initiate awareness campaign on their platforms for the users not to upload/circulate any false news/misinformation concerning corona virus which are likely to create panic among public and disturb the public order and social tranquillity;
(ii) take immediate action to disable /remove such content hosted on their platforms on priority basis;
(iii) promote dissemination of authentic information related to corona virus as far as possible.
(iv) Issue warning to imposters who misuse your platform and indulge in such fraudulent activities.

[Signature]

(Rakesh Maheshwari)
Group Coordinator (Cyber Laws and E-Security)

(With inputs from Nikhil Pahwa)

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