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Are Deep Fakes Different from Misinformation? Rajeev Chandrasekhar and Priyank Kharge Debate

Kharge’s comments came right after the Union Minister for IT Ashwini Vaishnaw announced that work on new deep fakes regulations would start “immediately.”

We missed this earlier: Karnataka’s IT Minister Priyank Kharge argued that the Indian government has “its priorities wrong” amidst its recent slew of measures to tackle deep fakes online, The Indian Express reported last week.

Describing misinformation as a “bigger threat” than deep fakes, Kharge added that “nothing” has been done to target fake news, despite rising concerns surrounding it.

Responding to Kharge’s comments in a PTI interview released early this morning, India’s Minister of State for IT Rajeev Chandrasekhar argued that deep fakes constituted misinformation as well:

“There is a saying that if you don’t know what you’re talking about, it is better not to talk about it, rather than demonstrate how ignorant you are,” Chandrasekhar said. “There is no difference between misinformation and deep fake. Misinformation is deep fake, deep fake is misinformation. Deep fake is a different type of misinformation, and misinformation is a broader category of patently false information. So, to Priyank Kharge and the other wise men who are today talking about deep fakes, I’m glad that they’ve all understood that these are a problem. I hope that he will advise his party not to rely on misinformation and lies as they have for many, many years.” Chandrasekhar is a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party, and Kharge, the Indian National Congress.

The Indian government’s current policy actions follow concerns raised by a slew of Indians, ranging from actresses to the Prime Minister himself, over the prevalence of deep fakes online. Chandrasekhar recently asked social media companies to modify their terms and conditions and inform users not to publish deep fakes online (deep fakes violate provisions of India’s platform regulation laws). After meeting with large social media platforms last week, the Union Minister for IT Ashwini Vaishnaw also announced that work on new regulations would start “immediately”.

Chandrasekhar and Vaishnaw have further reiterated that platforms failing to take down flagged deep fakes will lose their safe harbor protections under Indian law. Safe harbor protects platforms from being held liable for third-party content they host, provided they comply with Indian laws.

Nikhil’s take: “While the threat is real and immediate, and the steps being taken by the government are in the right direction, we must tread carefully to avoid over-regulation and the stifling of internet freedom,” MediaNama’s Editor Nikhil Pahwa writes. “The battle against deep fakes is a complex societal one, requiring a multifaceted societal response. The government has so far only held private meetings with platforms, industry bodies and some academics; perhaps a public consultation on the issue might help identify additional measures to curb this menace. The answer lies in a balanced approach that harnesses the power of technology, the wisdom of the crowd, and the strength of our democratic principles.”

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Has the Indian government done ‘nothing’ to address ‘fake’ news as Kharge claims? The Indian government has indeed attempted to regulate certain types of “misinformation” online of late. Kharge’s comments come only days before the Bombay High Court’s forthcoming verdict on the constitutionality of a fact-checking unit proposed by the Indian government. The government-appointed unit is empowered to fact-check government-related “misinformation” online, a move critics have described as giving the state powers to determine what constitutes truth online. Following the Indian government’s announcement, both the Karnataka and Tamil Nadu governments have proposed similar units as well. As we’ve previously noted, “despite party differences, restricting free speech online in the guise of misinformation regulation appears to increasingly be a non-partisan issue for governments across India”. The High Court’s verdict, expected this Friday, will help gauge the legitimacy of similar units constituted down south.

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