The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting on Monday issued directions for blocking 16 YouTube news channels and one Facebook account, a statement said.

Of the 16 news channels, six are from Pakistan and 10 from India, it said. The statement alleged that the YouTube channels, with a cumulative viewership of over 68 crore, were spreading disinformation.

“It was observed that these channels were used to spread fake news over social media on matters related to national security, India’s foreign relations, communal harmony in the country, and public order,” the government said. “None of the digital news publishers had furnished information to the Ministry as required under rule 18 of the IT Rules, 2021.”

The government was referring to the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021. It is a sweeping set of regulations for social media companies, streaming platforms and digital news content. They virtually bring the platforms under the government’s supervision for the first time.

Monday’s statement alleged that the Indian YouTube channels referred to a community as terrorists in their news content. “Such content was found to have the potential to create communal disharmony, and disturb public order,” it added.

These channels also published unverified news and videos that had the potential of creating panic among viewers.

“Examples include false claims related to announcement of a pan-India lockdown due to Covid-19 thereby threatening the migrant workers, and fabricated claims alleging threats to certain religious communities, etc,” the statement said. “Such content was observed to be detrimental to public order in the country.”

The government said that the Pakistani channels were being used to spread fake news about the Army, Jammu and Kashmir and India’s foreign relations amid the Ukraine war.

“The content of these channels was observed to be completely false, and sensitive from the perspective of national security, sovereignty and integrity of India, and India’s friendly relations with foreign states,” the statement said.

The official statement also mentioned an advisory that was issued to private TV news channels on Saturday, cautioning them against using “scandalous headlines” and “making false claims”.

“Government of India remains committed to ensure a safe and secure information environment in India across print, television and online media,” it added.

On April 5, the government had ordered blocking of 22 YouTube channels on charges of spreading disinformation.

“This is the first time action has been taken on the Indian YouTube based news publishers since the notification of the IT Rules, 2021, in February last year,” the order had stated.