Websites operating in India will have to ensure that any content identified as fake by agencies authorised by the central government is not allowed on their platforms, the Union information technology ministry has proposed as an amendment to the Information Technology Rules.

The proposed amendment was made available on the public domain on Tuesday.

The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules regulate intermediaries, which include social media websites, internet service providers and online marketplaces as well as digital media publishers, which include news websites and streaming services.

On Tuesday, the information technology ministry proposed an amendment to a provision in the Rules to make it mandatory to take down any content identified as fake by the fact check unit of the Press Information Bureau or any other agency authorised by the central government.

The amendment came to light just a week ahead of the consultation period for amendments to the IT rules ends on January 25.

The Press Information Bureau’s fact-checking unit was set up in 2019. It has frequently faced criticism for merely issuing denials to news articles critical of the government, rather than fact-checking how the claims are false.

In April 2020, the Caravan had alleged that a national task force on Covid-19 had not met even once in the week before Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the second lockdown due to the disease. The fact-checking unit had termed the report as false and baseless.

Reporter Vidya Krishnan had subsequently urged the PIB to share minutes of the task force’s meeting to back up its claims. However, she told Newslaundry that she did not receive the minutes.

On December 16, 2020, the PIB had claimed that an Intelligence Bureau recruitment circular that was being shared online was fake. However, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting said on the next day that the circular was genuine.

The PIB later deleted its tweet.

In June 2020, the PIB fact-checking unit had claimed that reports about a directive from the Uttar Pradesh Special Task Force directing its personnel to delete 52 Chinese applications from their phones for security reasons were false.

However, the Special Task Force’s Inspector General Amitabh Yash had told Alt News that the advisory was genuine.

On June 29, India banned 59 Chinese apps citing threats to national security and sovereignty. The ban came after tensions on the border between New Delhi and Beijing rose, leading to the deaths of at least 20 Indian soldiers during a “violent face-off” with Chinese troops along the Line of Actual Control.

IT rules

The Information Technology Rules constitute a set of sweeping regulations framed to regulate social media companies, streaming and digital news content, virtually bringing them, for the first time, under the ambit of government supervision.

Several media outlets have challenged the new rules in courts. They have argued that the guidelines will allow the government to directly control their content.

In 2021, tensions flared up between the Centre and Twitter after the social media firm refused to fully follow an order to remove hundreds of accounts accused of spreading misinformation about the farmers’ agitation. The social network eventually relented after its local employees were threatened with prison time.