False and misleading information could harm electoral democracy, the Centre told the Bombay High Court while opposing a plea challenging amendments to the Information Technology Rules, 2021, reported Bar and Bench on Friday.

Stand-up comedian Kunal Kamra had moved the High Court against the Centre’s decision to amend the Information Technology Rules, 2021 to allow a government-notified fact-checking unit to tag Union government-related news as “fake news”.

On April 6, the Centre notified amendments to the 2021 Information Technology Rules to regulate online gaming and news relating to the Union government. The rules say that the Union Ministry of Information Technology will notify a fact-checking body with the power to tag any information “in respect of any business of the Central government” as “fake or false or misleading”.

On April 11, a division bench of Justice Gautam S Patel and Justice Neela K Gokhale had asked the Union Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology to respond to Kamra’s plea.

The Centre told the High Court in an affidavit that false and misleading information can adversely damage electoral democracy, the economy and the social fabric of the country in many ways.

“It has the potential to fan separatist movements and intensify social and political conflict, while also weakening public trust in democratic institutions,” the government said. “In matters of public interest, misleading content on social media platforms influences citizens’ perceptions regarding reality and creates doubts regarding the actions and intentions of the democratically elected government.”

The ministry also said that most of the news shared on social media portals in India is produced by common users who do not have the means to verify information. “While a common user may not have the available time and resources to verify the information, anti-social and anti-India actors/ organisations have been using this feature of social media to deliberately publish and amplify false information,” the affidavit said.

However, several civil society organisations have expressed concern about potential misuse of the provision pertaining to the government-notified fact-check unit.

On April 7, the Editors Guild of India had also criticised the amendment saying that the government has given itself absolute power to determine what is fake or not. It had said that amendments will have “deeply adverse implications” for press freedom in the country and urged the Centre to withdraw it.

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