The New Attempt To Censor Covid Related Info On Social Media Platforms By GOI?

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The Government of India has always had an ongoing tussle with social media platforms when it comes to content moderation.

According to the latest media reports, the Indian Government has once again nudged social media giants to curb fake news and misinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Friday, the GOI sent an advisory to all the bigwigs such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter and Instagram in the social media space and urged them to initiate ‘awareness campaigns’ among Indian audiences.

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The Indian government asked them not to circulate any false news or misinformation that can likely create an atmosphere of panic among the public whilst disturbing the overall public order.

This isn’t merely a ‘suggestion’ that social media platforms can brush off lightly. Instead, they have been asked to take immediate action to disable or remove any content which intends to promote the dissemination of authentic and legit information which is related to the COVID-19 outbreak. And along with that, platforms must also issue warnings to all imposters who misuse online social channels.

As per the advisory prepared and sent by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, aka MeitY, social platforms have been defined as intermediaries under the Information Technology Act, 2000. Thus, they are required to follow the due diligence as prescribed by GOI’s Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code Rules, 2021.

The rules were notified in February 2021, under Section 79 of the Indian IT Act.

The advisory sent by GOI explicitly mentions that social media platforms must inform their users not to ‘host, display, upload, modify, publish, transmit, update or share any information which might affect the public order and unlawful in any way whatsoever.

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Note, while the directives do sound like something that has been issued for the greater public welfare, can also be the GOI’s alternative angle to enforce online content moderation at scale.

It’s always a blurry line between information and misinformation when debates are related to any topic not many people are familiar with. And when the topic is related to Covid19 which is bringing a lot of criticism for the government of India then the line becomes even blurriest.

Previously, Twitter deferred accepting repeated orders from the Government of India to remove content related to the ongoing farmers’ protests before finally giving in. And that went on to fuel India’s zeal to further tighten the regulations around content, which the Indian Government deems unlawful.

Just two weeks back the government of India directed social media platforms to remove 100s of posts related to Covid19 which were believed to be posted to create a panic among the people of India. However, many people criticised the government for making such attempts in a bid to hide tehir failures and discourage users from posting their ordeals in public domains.

Thus, it can be very much possible that the recent advisory is an attempt towards exercising social media censorship by labelling content pieces as misinformation related to the pandemic.

Currently, almost all social media platforms have their own inbuilt mechanisms to identify false information and subsequently direct users to the most authentic sources of information available on sensitive topics such as the COVID-19 vaccinations or treatments and the symptoms of the infection.

All in all, it now remains to be seen how Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and other social media platforms react to this advisory. We will keep you updated on all future developments. Until then, stay tuned.

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