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FactCheck about FactCheck Organization of the Government
[P.S. This is a continuation of the articles on the subject. Other recent articles can be found in the link given at the end of the articles]
Amidst the politicisation of the announcement by the Government about the desire to introduce a system for FactCheck in Social Media reporting, particularly against false information about the Government, we note an article in .. leaflet.in which comes to a conclusion
“in effect, a fact-check serves as a de-facto takedown order minus the processes associated with one, which already lacks adequate transparency. The ambiguity of terms such as ‘fake’, ‘false’ or ‘misleading’ coupled with the conflict of interest with having a designated unit appointed by the executive deciding what about the Union government is true or false, makes these amendments highly likely to be misused.
“Further, it is probable that to avoid liability, a range of intermediaries will mechanically comply irrespective of the quality and accuracy of the fact checks”,
“The amendment impermissibly restricts the safe harbour guaranteed to intermediaries by predicting the safe harbour on the takedown of content identified by this fact check unit as fake, false or misleading.
“The intermediary will not lose safe harbour the moment content is declared as fake, but only if the intermediary does not remove such content when ordered by the Ministry. Nevertheless, this goes against the parent act which does not include ‘fake or false or misleading’ as grounds under which online content may be ordered to be taken down.”
This article quotes the views of Mr Parteek Waghre, policy Director at IEF and makes reference to the letter written by Indian News Paper Society to the MeitY as well as the press release of the Editor’s Guild.
Mr Waghre goes on to say “Assigning any unit of the government such arbitrary, overboard powers to determine the authenticity of online content bypasses the principles of natural justice, thus making it an unconstitutional exercise. The notification of these amended rules cement (sic) the chilling effect on the fundamental right to speech and expression, particularly of news publishers, journalists, activists, etc.“
It is unfortunate that a speculative narrative is being built and is being propagated by vested media interests and we need the public to realize that these views are biased and need to be rejected.
The leaflet article states that “The factchecking unit is likely to have four members: a representative from the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, one from the Union Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, a media expert and a legal expert.”
As usual, the article does not quote the name of this media expert and a legal expert who had the inside information of the four member committee since the MeitY has not come up with any public information about it. If this legal and media expert is privy to the inside scoop from MeitY then he would probably be an influencer himself.
As could be expected, a petition has been filed in Mumbai High Court by a so called “Standup comedian” and in an attempt to create a TRP Judicial News, the Court has been pleased to issue a notice to the Union Government to hear the case on April 21, 2023.
Our first question is for the Mumbai High Court bench of Judges G S Patel and Neela Gokhale to file a reply and disclose the factual background that necessitated the amendment. It has asked the Government to submit its response on why the amendment should not be stayed by the Court. It appears that the probability of the Court issuing a stay is high.
We wonder why the Court should acted even before the Government actually sets up a FactCheck body and announces its constituents and the body comes up with the first 5 or 10 FactCheck reports.
Let us set aside the speculative narrative of “Chilling effect” etc and look directly at the actual amendment made.
The Intermediary Guidelines are a “Due Diligence Guideline” issued under Section 79 of ITA 2000 which the Supreme Court has upheld during the Shreya Singhal Judgement. The effect of the guideline is that an intermediary which does not follow the guideline will not get protection against liability arising out of any content published when challenged in a Court and when directed by a Court or a Competent authority is obliged to take down the designated content expeditiously. (not later than 36 hours).
Section 79 is not a “Penal Section” prescribing any penalty and the liability will arise only if the designated content can be proved to actually result in a damage which the Court upholds after a trial.
Even when a take down notice is issued, the intermediary can refuse to take down the information and wait for some body to launch judicial proceedings against it or go to the Court itself seeking an intervention of the Court for directions why the notice should be squashed.
Hence a factcheck report on a PIB website is not a “De-facto” take down notice. At best it can be the first and public notice that a particular publication is wrong. If the concerned media is responsible and committed for truth, it can conduct its own investigation and call out the fact check report itself as wrong. In many cases the truth would be some where in between and it could the headline of an article that can be misleading or there could be lack of information leading to a wrong conclusion. These can be corrected without an acrimonious Court battle.
Hence the cry of “Chilling Effect” is patently false, misleading and also mischievous. The petition indicates a malicious intention of defaming the Government of the day and preventing it from discharging it’s routine functions.
As a Citizen of the Country also protected or supposed to be protected under the Constitution and expecting the Courts to uphold my rights as a Citizen of the Country, I consider that there is a dire need for the Government to check the spread of Fake News in the media.
Recently, there was a report about a false news on Madurai Court granting relief to an accused which was perhaps in-correct. The judiciary itself has often expressed its concerns on the fake news menace. Even as late as April 14, the Supreme Court expressed concern over the proliferation of fake news and the communalisation of reportage and asked the Centre if it is “really serious” about fixing accountability on web portals and other media to check the menace. The court observed that communalisation of news gives the country a “bad name”.
Though the context was prevention of spread of Communal hatred, the argument applies to even the organized political attack on the Government in order to destabilize the democracy in the country. We cannot say what is stated against the Government is always free speech to be protected even if it is blatantly false where as any incorrect view expressed in favour of one religion or one political view opposed to the Government is an attempt to create communal hatred or an attack on Democracy.
There is a need to approach this menace with a neutral mindset and I hope the Mumbai High Court would ensure that its views will neither be politically motivated or TRP motivated.
I therefore consider that if any fake news is put out against the Government, the Government as an entity has the right to defend itself and common citizens like me consider this as a duty of the Government.
Hence the petition in the Mumbai High Court deserves to be dismissed and can be taken on a case to case basis when there is any specific instance of misuse of the provision.
What Exactly the Guideline Say?
Now re-iterating the guideline, it only suggests that practicing Due Diligence by an intermediary includes the duty namely
deceives or misleads the addressee about the origin of the message or knowingly and intentionally communicates any misinformation or information which is patently false and untrue or misleading in nature or is identified as fake or false by the fact check unit at the Press Information Bureau of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting or other agency authorised 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 under the rules of business made under clause (3) of article 77 of the Constitution;
If this due diligence guidance is wrong, then the Court would be upholding that “Deceiving and misleading and misinformation of a patently false information” are part of the Free speech.
I would request the Court not to come up with such a finding.
The second part of the above paragraph which states “Or is identified as fake etc” is again a guidance for the intermediary to incorporate in its policy or terms to its users.
In other words, If I am writing an article on word press, the word press is an intermediary and in its terms it should tell me not to intentionally communicate any mis information including what has been identified as false by the Fact Check unit.
If tomorrow some body has a cause of action against me on account of the posting, then he/she could approach a Court. The Court at that time would not hold word press liable and grant it immunity under Section 79. However Court would expect cooperation from the intermediary on the identity of the content owner, whether the content was posted by the said person himself or whether it was posted by a hacker to fix the blog owner by producing log records etc. We can recall that this is a standard defence on Twitter to say “My Twitter Account was hacked and I dd not send that offensive Tweet”.
If the intermediary at that time does not cooperate in finding out the truth , it would be open to a different charge of not cooperating the Court or the law enforcement for a legitimate national security duty. The Intermediary could even be accused of facilitating the offence under Section 43(g) of ITA 2000 and charged for Civil and Criminal consequences.
I take an example of the most recent post in PIB Fact Check web page
If Telengana Today had published a report that Modi’s Promise has been broken because Telengana was excluded in a Central Government project and the Textile Ministry considers that this is not true, it is the right of Mr Modi as an individual, as Prime Minister of the Country or the Ministry of Textiles or Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to stand up and question the publication. If Telengana Today had published the news erroneously then they would place a rejoinder agreeing that the information was not correct and the matter ends there.
If however, this issue is blown up and used by some politicians politically to harm the BJP, then the BJP as a party has the right to file a case against Telangana Today for not taking action to limit the damage. However the obligation to take down does not arise even when a notice is served by BJP party to the publication but only when a Court issues such an order.
I want the INS to comment why this sort of regulation is not to be imposed on the media. Just because a publication calls itself a “News Paper” , it does not give it a right of dis-information without being questioned in the Court. Since the final arbitrator is the Judicial system the Intermdiary Guidline is a small “Best Practice Guideline” and nothing more.
To make matters more clear to the professionals, let us say that ISO comes up with an amendment to its ISO 27001 standard (more particularly say on the disclosure of information from a Company regarding Privacy Notice) and introduces a new requirement. The industry cannot cry wolf and say since there are hundreds of companies already certified under ISO 27001, the guideline would cause a “Chilling Effect” on the way ISO has changed the standard etc.
It is the duty of the Government to keep on improving its suggested standards of due diligence and everything cannot be called “Chilling Effect”. If we are living in the antarctic, “Zero degree temperature” is not “Chilling”. How ever if you are living in Bangalore, even 6 degree temperature is “Chilling”.
Similarly in a world of fake news, particularly when AI created robotic publishing, deep fake etc is the norm of the day, calling out some thing as fake is not “Chilling”. It is the duty of the Government to provide such cover of truth just like we have an anti virus software to remove virus in the computer system.
Further, the guidleline only talks about a Government department issuing a Fact Check report in respect of “any business of the Central Government, by its department in which such business is transacted under the rules of business made“.
As regards information that appears elsewhere in the social media, it is open for private sector fact checking units to remain in existence and persons like Zubair of Alt News can continue their work but subject to being open for Judicial scrutiny.
Ireland Media shows the way
While on the subject, I also found the existence of “The Journal FactCheck Unit” . This is located within the news room of one of Ireleands news resources, The Journal and was established in 2016. This unit has also developed a process for not only calling out a false report but also how it can be remedied. This is similar to what Naavi had suggested way back in 2000. (Check this Article).
One of the corrections posted on the Journal FactCheck page indicates how this kind of service can function.
In my opinion, media should welcome the move of the Government to point out falsehood spread through planted stories. This will provide a crowd sourced and Government managed news verification service that would assist the publication to maintain its integrity.
I hope the Mumbai High Court sees it in the same way.
1.What is wrong with Internet Freedom Foundation?
2. “Deeply Disturbed” Editor’s Guild is Wrong
4.Is Editor’s Guild itself putting out a fake news?
5.There is no Right to Fake News
6.Gaming Intermediaries…Final Guidelines released
7. Mumbai High Court agrees to hear challenge to Intermediary Guidelines.. Unfortunate
8. How to respond to rogue elements on the Social Media
Also see :
Implications of fake news on human rights
Madurai Court case of Manish Kashyap
Mumbai High Court agrees to hear challenge to Intermediary Guidelines.. Unfortunate
A petition has been filed in Mumbai High Court against the recent Intermediary Guidelines by Mr Kunal Karma a stand up comedian according to a report in Bar and Bench and the Court has agreed to hear it on April 21.
We draw the attention of the public and hopefully that of the Mumbai High Court that the petition lacked merit even to be accepted if there is a prima facie evaluation of the rules.
I suppose the following articles explain why I consider that the fear expressed by a section of the press is imaginary and speculative.
1.What is wrong with Internet Freedom Foundation?
2. “Deeply Disturbed” Editor’s Guild is Wrong
4.Is Editor’s Guild itself putting out a fake news?
5.There is no Right to Fake News
6.Gaming Intermediaries…Final Guidelines released
This petition is a waste of public money and Court’s time and costs should be imposed on the petitioner.
What is wrong with Internet Freedom Foundation?
Internet Freedom Foundation is an organization that has been promoted by knowledgeable legal experts. However in recent times the statements coming out of IFF are biased and lack proper research. One of the latest such statements is on the new Intermediary Guidelines of 6th April 2023 where IFF has echoed the Editor’s Guild view.
The view is contained in the following press release.
The essential aspects of the statement are as follows.
- ” a fact check unit notified, based solely on the discretion of the Union Government, will be empowered to identify fake or false or misleading online content related to the government [Rule 3(1)(b)(v)].
- The inclusion of the latter under Rule 3 makes taking action against content identified by such a fact check unit a due diligence requirement for intermediaries”
- “In an event where any intermediaries, including social media intermediaries (Facebook, Twitter etc.),Internet Service Providers (ISPs) (Airtel, ACT, Jio etc.), other service providers, fail to/ decide against taking action on content identified as “fake” or “false” by the notified fact check unit, they will risk losing their safe harbour protections.”
- Assigning any unit of the government such arbitrary, overbroad powers to determine the authenticity of online content bypasses the principles of natural justice, thus making it an unconstitutional exercise.
- “The notification of these amended rules cement the chilling effect on the fundamental right to speech and expression, particularly on news publishers, journalists, activists, etc.”
- .”The fact check unit, notified by the Executive, could effectively issue a takedown order to social media platforms and even other intermediaries across the internet stack, potentially bypassing the process statutorily prescribed under Section 69A of the IT Act, 2000.”
- ” In addition to circumventing the parliamentary procedures required to expand the scope of the parent legislation, i.e. the IT Act, these notified amendments are also in gross violation of the Hon’ble Supreme Court ruling in Shreya Singhal vs. Union of India (2013) which laid down strict procedures for blocking content.”
- “Finally, the vagueness of the undefined terms such as “fake”, “false”, “misleading” make such overbroad powers further susceptible to misuse”
In our considered opinion the above observations are false and misleading and makes the article published on the website of IFF lose the protection under Section 79 if such a protection was available. If any person is aggrieved by the above article and files a complaint in a Court, IFF should not be able to claim protection since the false nature of the content has been called out by us in the public domain. It is not necessary for either the person making the call or the Government to issue take down notice nor it is mandatory for IFF to take down the content even if they receive any notice other than from a competent court or an agency authorized under Section 69A of ITA 2000. (Which the fact check agency mentioned in the guidelines is not).
To clarify, Section 79 provides some privilege to “Intermediaries”. Intermediaries who donot follow certain due diligence (as indicated under Section 79(2)c) will lose protection under Section 79(1). The elements of due diligence are indicated in the Intermediary Guidelines. But non compliance of the guidelines does not mandate taking down of the content. Taking down responsibility comes in when there is a Court order or an order from a competent authority like an order issued under Section 69A of the ITA 2000. Even a legal notice from an affected party does not constitute a mandate to take down the content.
Additionally, we must recognize that not all organizations are Intermediaries”. The criteria for intermediaries go by the definition of Intermediaries under section 2(w) and 79(2) (a) and (b) .
In the case of IFF press release, the hosting company say godaddy.com (or any other) is an intermediary. However IFF is the owner of the content and is not an Intermediary and hence not protected for any damages that may result to any member of the public or the Government if such an affected party can prove the damage in the Court.
The notification of the MeitY (Copy available here) does not mandate that action need to be taken by an intermediary if any content is flagged by the fact check agency of the Government. This fact check unit would be one of the many such fact checking units that would be available on the web including naavi.org or AltNews. PIBFactCheck handle on Twitter is not a notified authority under Section 69A and is for public information purpose only.
It is open to the Court to give more weightage to the Government body instead of a private fact checking body like Altnews or Naavi.org or rely on its own judgement based on the information placed before the Court during the trial.
In view of the above points 1 and 2 of the IFF statement listed above are false and speculative.
Point number 3 to the extent a “Risk” exists is correct. But a mere existence of “Risk” is not to say that the event will actually happen. For example if a website has a risk of being hacked, it does not mean that it has been hacked.
Since there is no “arbitrary” power vested with the Government fact check body, point number 4 is incorrect, speculative and is a propaganda which can be argued as malicious and involves a conspiracy with Editor’s Guild for some common purpose.
For the same reason, point number 5 on “Chilling effect” is a speculative expression.
Point no 6 is blatantly false and can only be saved by the word “could effectively”.
Point no 7 is misleading since the said Supreme Court judgement upheld section 79(1) and 79(2) and only read down 79(3) regarding when the intermediary is expected to be considered as “Having knowledge” by linking it to a judicial order or an “appropriate” Government or agency and that the fact checking agency has not been notified as such an agency under Section 69A.
Point no 8 is a vague allegation that can be raised against any legislation. It is not substantiated and cannot be substantiated. Every law is subject to interpretation and it is the duty of the Court to clarify when required what is the clarity. This article is an attempt to provide logic to an opinion that the IFF posting is misleading and false. This is an example of what can be a “Fact Check” which is not a binary stamp “True” or “False”. In many instances such a detailed counter would be required to brand a report as “Misleading”.
In totality therefore, it is my considered view that the IFF press statement was unbecoming of a professional organization. In fact, it is difficult to accept that the experts in the organization are not aware of the points raised by me here. They are aware of it perhaps better than me. It would have been prudent for IFF if they had mentioned that there could be many views and interpretations of the notification and their view is one of the many views.
I would not expect Editor’s Guild to have the understanding of the law but IFF cannot parrot the Editor’s Guild views as if it is ignorant of the law.
I hope IFF does not fall into the habit of opposing any thing the Government proposes as “Un constitutional” since it would defame the Constitution itself. I hope IFF takes this as a friendly suggestion.
“Deeply Disturbed” Editor’s Guild is Wrong
The Editor’s Guild was in the news recently calling the Intermediary rules released by the Meity on 7th April 2023 as “Draconian”, “Regrettable” and urging the Ministry to withdraw the notification.
In our set of articles ending with “Fact Check Compliance” we have discussed the details of the said notification and the action required to be taken by Social Media intermediaries consequent to the notification.
It is however necessary to high light why organizations like “Editor’s Guild” need to be exposed for their ignorance and/or malicious attitude born out of their hatred to the political system or a political leader.
Journalism is respected when it is neutral and responsible. But today most media vehicles are funded from vested interests and have lost credibility. A time has come when every news item reported has to be seen along with where was it published and its credibility assessed accordingly. The emergence of George Soros as the global media mughal who has bought over many journalists and media has made the genuine Journalists very uncomfortable to be bracketed with the pseudo journalists and propagandists. A time has come to call out such journalists to preserve the credibility of the genuine journalists.
The Editor’s Guild unfortunately has exposed itself with its “Deeply Disturbed” press release that represents a group of pseudo journalists. I call the attention of the members of Editor’s Guild to introspect and take corrective action before they lose further credibility.
The press release of Editor’s guild issued on April 7th is reproduced below .
This publication has been reproduced in many other media and has been widely published. I however consider that this is a “Patently False” and fits into the description of rule 2(b)(v) which states as follows:
“deceives or misleads the addressee about the origin of the message or knowingly and intentionally communicates any misinformation or information which is patently false and untrue or misleading in nature 1[or is identified as fake or false by the fact check unit at the Press Information Bureau of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting or other agency authorised 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 under the rules of business made under clause (3) of article 77 of the Constitution];”
I am sure that many of the pseudo journalists will jump up and say that my statement itself vindicates why this rule is draconian and can have a chilling effect etc. It is open for Editor’s guild to say that it was not “Intentionally” made and therefore does not come within the definition of this rule. The defence is fine but it admits that Editor’s Guild is ignorant. For the time being let us not debate whether the statement was intentional and accept that it was out of ignorance and let us try to explain why Editor’s Guild was wrong.
The key statements made in the press release are
- the government has given itself absolute power to determine what is fake or not, in respect of its own work, and order take down
- the Ministry has given itself the power to constitute a “fact checking unit”, which will have sweeping powers to determine what is “fake or false or misleading”, with respect to “any business of the Central Government”, and with instructions to ‘intermediaries’ (including social media intermediaries, Internet Service Providers, and other service providers), to not host such content
- There is no mention of what will be the governing mechanism for such a fact checking unit, the judicial oversight, the right to appeal, or adherence to the guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court of India in Shreya Singhal v Union of India case, with respect to take down of content or blocking of social media handles. All this is against principles of natural justice, and akin to censorship
The Guild must understand ITA 2000 and Section 79 read along with Section 2(w) and if it has any reasonable intelligence, it will understand that the statement is speculative and erroneous.
The Notification of 7th April apply to entities which are classified as “Intermediaries” including the online media. However since online media exercises an editorial control of accepting what to publish and rejecting what not to publish, such online media will not come within the criteria of Section 79(3) which was upheld by the Supreme Court in the Shreya Singhal case.
(PS: The judgement of Shreya Singhal itself was a result of an erroneous impression by the Court that “Publishing” and “Messaging” are same which has been explained elsewhere) .
The Shreya Singhal judgement stated –
Section 79 is valid subject to Section 79(3)(b) being read down to mean that an intermediary upon receiving actual knowledge from a court order or on being notified by the appropriate government or its agency that unlawful acts relatable to Article 19(2) are going to be committed then fails to expeditiously remove or disable access to such material. Similarly, the Information Technology “Intermediary Guidelines” Rules, 2011 are valid subject to Rule 3 sub-rule (4) being read down in the same manner as indicated in the judgment.
The Supreme Court upheld the Section 79 as a whole and read down 79(3) regarding what it means by “Receiving Actual Knowledge for the purpose of taking down of any content”
I would draw the attention of the Editor’s Guild that Section 79(1) is the benefit that would be denied if the Intermediary guideline is not adhered to by any intermediary who otherwise satisfies the 79(2) criteria.
An editorially controlled website does not meet the criteria of 79(2) and hence online media does not qualify to claim 79(1) benefit. The content published is owned by the media, paid by the media and often used to generate advertisement income. It is content for own use and not for “Transmission by an intermediary like an ISP”.
Additionally, even if the online media is eligible for the “Safe harbor” provision and it has not adhered to the guidelines as prescribed and even if it has received an email from the Government, it has no obligation to take down the information. It can simply ignore until the take down order comes from a Judicial authority. The Fact Check unit when formed is not a judicial authority and there is no indication that it would issue take down or even information notice directly to the concerned online media.
Presently there are many fact checking services (Listed in my previous article) and the Government Fact Checking service will be one more such service. Presently PIB already has a fact check reporting on a twitter hashtag @PIBFactCheck
One of the typical notifications is
I must recall here that Naavi.org has several times in the past called out fake websites but knowing where to report. One example is regarding “Loans through SMS-Fraud” in 2014. The Government did not take any corrective action that time and it was only when a victim of a fraud of Rs 22 lakhs got a relief from Chattisgarh Adjudicator the website was brought down.
If the PIB Fact Check facility had been available in 2014, I could have used the service to spread the message. There are many such alerts I have made during the past 20 years of the existence of Naavi.org which remained as articles in Naavi.org and dependent on the Google search to spread the message..
I therefore am convinced that the Fact Check service from PIB which is a crowd sourced information can be useful to the society.
The first and second charges of the Editor’s Guild on the Government that it has given powers to PIB to take down websites and usurped absolute power to bring down a website etc… are patently false.
In fact most private sector companies including Banks consider it as part of their information security duties to identify phishing websites and take steps to bring them down often without judicial oversight but using only the notice to the hosting company and invoking the hosting or domain name contract.
I can provide another example of a case where Naavi.org was wrongly flagged and taken down because of a mistake done by RSA security team at the behest of Union Bank
Naavi was also a victim long time back when his article on blogger’s news was taken down (See the details in this article and it’s links)
Editor’s Guild should be aware of these kind of developments instead of crying wolf every time Meity comes up with a notification.
As regards the third charge, there was no need for the Government to specifically mention , the judicial oversight, the right to appeal, or adherence to the guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court of India in Shreya Singhal v Union of India case, with respect to take down of content or blocking of social media handles etc since they are public knowledge which an organization such as Editor’s Guild ought to know.
It was irresponsible of Editor’s Guild to have put out the “Deeply disturbed” press release and mislead the community to think some thing seriously draconian is being contemplated by the Government that it does not like.
I request that action should be taken on Editor’s Guild for their irresponsible and fake news spread under their special status as an association of journalists. I have gathered information that many journalists just forwarded the Editor’s Guild message and made it viral in their own networks. They will be by the judicial decisions on S V Shekar Case as well as the Shreya Singhal case be liable for the spreading of the fake message.
The first task that Editor’s Guild and all the journalists who made the fake message viral in their own social media networks need to do is to apologize and withdraw their forwards. They can use this article as a forward to give logic on withdrawing their earlier message.
I am forwarding this article to PIBFactCheck for information and also urge the Government to initiate action to extract an apology from Editor’s Guild.
I consider that it is a duty of the Government to take action to bring down phishing websites and fake news in the interest of security of ordinary citizens like me.
I understand that a hue and cry would be raised by the Editor’s Guild in this regard but the Government should at least make efforts to ensure that the Genuine Journalists get a better voice than the pseudo journalists.
I request the genuine journalists also to distance themselves from Editor’s guild and start an alternative forum to Editor’s Guild so that they donot get tainted by the mis adventures of Editor’s Guild.
The Fact Check Compliance
(This is in continuation of the previous articles on this subject)
Consequent to the issue of the Intermediary Guidelines of April 6, 2023, there would be a new requirement related to the compliance of ITA 2000/8. While some activists continue to cry wolf, the community has largely supported the move of the Government to introduce a check on spread of Fake News.
Preventing fake news is essential to preserve the integrity of data on the Internet. Hence it is an obligation for the Government to maintain the security of the Cyber Space of India.
The small group of vested interests in the media want to claim that they are are above law and cannot be touched because of the concept of “Freedom of Press”. But we need to understand that many of these media vehicles who are behind criticism of the guidelines are not “Press” in the right sense. They are political mouth pieces of either Indian opposition parties or the global manipulators like George Soros.
It is not possible to accept the the right of the Social Media to dish out fake news without check. These entities have not implemented the need for “Identifying” their members through a proper system of verification and display of verification. This is the first step they need to take to prevent fake accounts in Twitter or Face Book or YouTube or Google. Just as TRAI is introducing a requirement for display of Caller information on mobiles, every messaging provider should implement a system where the identity of the sender of the message is verified and also revealed on demand by the recipient. (Refer the article Recipient of an E Mail must have the right to know the sender’s IP address)
The current Intermediary guidelines indicate that social media introduces a compliance requirement related to fact check.
We donot as yet know if the Government is introducing a separate agency or expect the PIB to be a reference point for fact check. In the case of the Gaming intermediary the Government has suggested that the industry will set up self regulatory bodies. In the case of Fact Check, the Government is aware that there are several private sector services including Alt News of Zubair Ahmed which are already putting out their views on whether a news is true or false. It is now proposing that one more such agency will come up in the public sector. It could be a separate department or part of CERT IN.
This Fact Check Agency needs to check the correctness of a piece of news either on its own or on receipt of a reference. The output may be made available on a Website.
This data should be public and it should be available for verification similar to the verification of public key of a person in the PKI Digital Signature system. It is not mandatory that the agency should inform the intermediary about its finding.
When an aggrieved person files a complaint with the Judiciary it is for the Judiciary to consider whether the social media is eligible for Section 79 protection or not. At that time the Judiciary may take into account that a public notice was provided on the news being false and the social media continued to host it. In other words, the Fact Check information becomes a “Knowledge” of the intermediary and it is left to them to take proactive action or not.
In view of the above the Social media company needs to introduce a compliance check measure which involve the following.
- Conduct a periodic check on the Fact Check website of the Government as well as other reliable private sector services through a search algorithm. (This is similar to the reputation management services provided for websites monitoring the news about a company appearing in press and social media)
- If a news published in the media is referred to in any fact check website, it should be considered as a “Compliance Incident/Alert”. This should be integrated to the Incident Management System.
- An internal committee under the leadership of the Compliance Officer should verify the incident and record its report whether the incident should be escalated for deletion or de-flagged.
- The output action can be to remove the news item or ignore the incident.
- Instead of the binary decision of “Remove” or “Ignore”, the company can adopt Naavi’s old suggestion that a remark can be attached to the article “This news item is flagged as untrue by XYZ fact check agency with a fact check score of xx%”. In most cases this would be a sufficient due diligence since the consumers would be put on notice. This is precisely the method used by Naavi’s “Lookalikes.in” service on confusingly similar domain names.
Naavi was a pioneer in suggesting the “Lookalikes.in” service more than 2 decades back. Naavi has already introduced the ITA 2008 compliance framework with a DTS score which includes compliance of ITA 2000 along with Cert-In Guidelines. Now for Social Media, the need for “Factcheck verification to be considered as an Incident monitoring requirement” and follow up action will be considered as a required compliance measure and will be incorporated in the DTS calculations.
As already indicated, Naavi will start monitoring the presence of fact check services. At present a google search indicates the presence of the following fact check services. This needs to be updated with suggestions from the public. Just as in Virus removal, we look at multiple anti virus programs, we need to check with multiple fact check agencies to compute a “Fact Check Score” on a scale of 0-100% where 0 indicates “Proven to be false” to 100% indicating “Proven to be true” and other ratings in between 0-100 indicating the probability on the basis of credibility of individual fact checking services for which some weightage would be worked out.
- The Quint
- Mediabias/Factcheck (MBFC News)
- Washingtonpost fact checker
- Full fact
- SM hoax slayer
- International Fact Checking Network
- PIB factcheck
PS: Some of the above fact check sites needs to be evaluated for reliability. They may be themselves a fraudulent website or committed to some ideological entity. Like fake Anti Virus software, there will be fake fact check websites also. Hence the need for a reliable Fact Check service is essential. The Indian Government initiative should therefore be a welcome choice.
Is Editor’s Guild itself putting out a fake news?
There is no right to fake news
Copy of the New Intermediary Guidelines of April 6, 2023