The Centre has asked social media platforms to curb misinformation and fake news relating to the raging COVID-19 pandemic. India is currently dealing with an unprecedented surge in coronavirus cases that have pushed the country's healthcare infrastructure to its limits.
The Ministry of Electronics and IT has sent an advisory to social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, and Instagram, asking them to "initiate awareness campaigns" amongst their user base urging them not to circulate "any false news or misinformation," which may create "panic among the public and disturb the public order", the Economic Times reported.
The Ministry has asked the social media platforms to take immediate action to remove fake news and misinformation and promote authentic information pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic. The platforms have been asked to issue warnings to preparators who misuse these online spaces to spread misinformation.
In its advisory, the IT Ministry stated that social media platforms are intermediaries as defined in the Information Technology Act, 2000 and are therefore required to follow due diligence, as written in the IT (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021. These rules were notified under section 79 of the Information Technology Act in February of this year.
"They (social media platforms) 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," the IT Ministry's advisory noted, according to the daily.
Earlier, social media firms had stated that they are intermediaries and do not read every single message that passes through their platforms. Hence, it would be difficult for social media platforms to comply with such government orders, the firms have argued.
Social media platforms have taken steps in the past to curb misinformation. Several of them have inbuilt mechanisms that direct users to authentic information on topics such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
"No company is anyway knowingly allowing fake news, but what we think the government means is that if companies see such misinformation circulating on their platforms, then they should stop it," an executive at a social media firm told the daily.