India proposes social media firms rely on fact checking by gov't agencies

The Indian government has proposed making the Press Bureau of India and its other agencies the arbiter of truth on what information is misleading online, escalating troubles for social media firms and other internet companies in the key overseas market.

The proposal by the Ministry of Electronics and IT came as part of an amendment to the nation’s IT rules. In the current draft, the ministry asks social media firms and online gaming companies to undertake due diligence on the content users “host, display, upload, modify, publish, transmit, store, update or share” and ensure that they are not “patently false and untrue or misleading in nature.”

The change proposes (PDF) that the social media firms and gaming companies use the judgment of the Press Information Bureau, a nodal agency, of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting or other agency authorized by the Central Government for fact checking or “in respect of any business of the Central Government, by its department in which such business is transacted.”

The Press Bureau of India's fact checks have been scrutinized and found to be misleading in some instances by the local media.

Apar Gupta, executive director of the Internet Freedom Foundation, a digital rights group, said the Ministry of Electronics and IT continues to "flout legality by seeking to expand the IT Rules." It was "concerning" that the proposal allows central government ministry's to "'fact check' news reports on them and cause their take down, he added.

The ministry proposed earlier this month that the online gaming industry establish a self-regulatory body to oversee concerns over the rise of addictiveness of their titles. On Tuesday evening, it proposed that when the ministry holds the view that the self-regulatory body has not complied with the provisions of this rule, it may direct the body to "undertake measures to rectify the non-compliance."

The new proposal may add to the growing pain for many tech giants in India, one of their key overseas markets, where they have been subjected to greater accountability, scrutiny and questionable tactics in recent years. New Delhi is entering 2023 with several more such policy changes, including a telecom law that would tighten the government’s grip on internet firms.

Asia Internet Coalition, an influential industry group that represents Google, Meta and Amazon, among other tech firms, expressed concerns earlier this month about the digital competition law recommended by an Indian parliamentary panel that seeks to regulate their alleged anticompetitive practices, calling the proposal “absolutist and regressive” in nature.

The Indian panel said last month that its recommendation was systemically important to counter monopoly and warned that tech giants “must not favour its own offers over the offers of its competitors” when acting as mediators to supply and sales markets.