Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Wednesday said social media platforms should themselves control the circulation of fake or abusive news, PTI reported. The information technology minister told the Lok Sabha that he had asked the companies to look for technological solutions to the problem.

His statement came two weeks after the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology said that such platforms “cannot evade responsibility and accountability” if they are used to spread rumours and fake news. The government had said such companies were “liable to be treated as abettors” in such cases.

Speaking during the Question Hour on Wednesday, Prasad said he had “conveyed to them [social media platforms] in very clear observation that it does not need rocket science to identify lakhs of messages being circulated on a particular day, in a particular area of a particular state”. The government has also asked the social media companies to appoint grievance officers in India to address complaints, he said.

Cambridge Analytica scandal

Prasad also said that the government will not tolerate the abuse of data by companies in order to influence elections in the country. He said the government has ordered an inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation into the alleged misuse of data of Indian Facebook users by British firm Cambridge Analytica, reported PTI.

“Any foreign entity, Facebook or Cambridge Analytica, cannot abuse the data of Indians to influence elections of India,” he said. “India’s elections are very transparent, sanctified.”

He said the government had referred the matter to the CBI because the replies from Facebook and Cambridge Analytica were “not adequately convincing”.

Prasad said while Facebook had apologised to the government, Cambridge Analytica said it did not have any Facebook data on Indian citizens. Facebook also told the government that about 5.62 lakh Indians may have been potentially affected in the scandal, he said.

In April, Facebook admitted that the data of more than five lakh Indian users had been compromised in the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The breach occurred after 335 Indian Facebook users downloaded an app owned by a company, which later sold the information to Cambridge Analytica.

The Centre sent notices to Facebook and Cambridge Analytica twice in March and April – the second one was sent as the responses to the first one were “cryptic”, the government said. In July, the Centre refused a Right to Information request to share copies of the companies’ responses as they were confidential.

On July 26, Prasad had told Rajya Sabha that the CBI would investigate the data breach by Cambridge Analytica.