The Centre will now assist citizens to file first information reports against social media companies for violating the Information Technology Act, 2021, if they are aggrieved by objectionable content on the platforms, Union minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar said on Friday, reported The Indian Express.

The minister of state for electronics and information technology told reporters that the users will now be able to notify authorities on a specialised platform developed by the ministry against objectionable and misleading content such as deepfakes on social media.

Deepfake is a technique for manipulating audio and video with the help of artificial intelligence software to show people saying or doing things that they never said or did. The content is made to appear as realistic as possible and is usually used with malicious intent.

It poses a new threat to an online ecosystem that already teems with fake photos created through editing software, as well as misinformation and disinformation.

A deepfake video showing actor Rashmika Mandanna had sparked concerns about the use of the technology. The original video was of Zara Patel, a British-Indian social media influencer, and the visuals were morphed to show Mandanna’s face instead of Patel’s.

On Friday, Chandrasekhar warned the social media companies that the Narendra Modi government would not tolerate any violation of the Information Technology Act 2021, which makes it mandatory for them to identify and remove misinformation and deepfakes from their platforms.

He added that the platforms have been given seven days to align their terms of use in accordance with the Act.

On November 18, Minister for Electronics and Information Technology and Communications Ashwini Vaishnaw had warned social media platforms that the safe harbour immunity clause under the Information Technology Act would not apply if they do not take steps to remove deepfakes.

The safe harbour clause protects social media intermediaries such as Google and Facebook from legal action against them for content posted online by their users.

One of the first prominent deepfakes to make headlines in India was that of Bharatiya Janata Party leader Manoj Tiwari in 2020, ahead of legislative elections in Delhi. Tiwari had used artificial intelligence to depict himself speaking in two languages – English and Haryanvi – as he criticised his opponent Arvind Kejriwal.

The MIT Technology Review referred to the incident as “the first time a political party anywhere has used a deepfake for campaigning purposes”.