Why IT’s proposed standards for PIB’s fact checks may use a few further checks

🔴 June 19, 2020: The Uttar Pradesh Special Task Force publishes a list of Chinese applications and requests that its soldiers refrain from downloading them due to security threats. The Press Information Bureau’s fact-checking division characterises a social media photograph of the directive as phoney, but a top official verifies that the STF issued the list.

🔴 July 16, 2020: The PIB section labels a news article in The Deccan Era as misleading on the basis of a Delhi Police statement that it did not adhere to the “spirit” of an order given during the investigation of the Northeast Delhi riots. The report referenced the police directive.

🔴 December 16, 2020: An Intelligence Bureau recruitment notice is deemed fraudulent by a PIB unit. The following day, a Ministry of Information and Broadcasting branch flags PIB’s fact check as erroneous.

Under the revised draught of modifications to the Information Technology Rules issued Tuesday by the Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY), internet firms would be required to remove the aforementioned posts without recourse.

The proposal on “fake” news, added as an addendum to the rules on online gaming, stipulates that anything deemed deceptive by “any other agency authorised by the government for fact-checking” or “about any Centre business” will not be permitted on the internet intermediaries.

While The Deccan Era filed comprehensive inquiries to both MeitY and PIB, the government announced on Thursday that proposed revisions to the IT Rules had been disseminated for stakeholder comment. Minister of State for Electronics and IT Rajeev Chandrasekhar said in a statement, “As is the government’s practise, these amendments will also be put through open consultations – to reflect, discuss, and deliberate on these amendments or any other such effective means through which we can prevent misinformation/ patently false information from being circulated on the Internet by State/Non-State actors.”

The PIB’s fact-checking unit has so far marked over a thousand reports as “unverified.” According to sources, it takes note of such complaints automatically as well as when residents submit questions via its website, email, or Whatsapp. While PIB’s fact-checks consistently disprove questionable WhatsApp forwards and social media posts, its ‘fake news’ labels on certain posts raise questions.

For instance, in the case of the Intelligence Bureau notification, the PIB fact check unit declared on December 16, 2020, that a recruitment notice given by the Bureau was deceptive and stamped the image with a “false” banner. The Publications Division of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) submitted a clarification to the PIB’s “fact-check” the following day, stating that the image of the recruiting notice was authentic.

“Attention is brought to the action taken by the PIB Fact Check Unit on December 16, 2020, whereby the Intelligence Bureau (Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India) advertising appearing on pages 6 and 7 of Employment News, planned for publishing on December 19, 2020, has been marked as ‘false.’ “The Intelligence Bureau has confirmed in writing that the advertisement is authentic,” the Publications Division stated in response to PIB’s fact-checking initiative.

Then, on June 19, 2020, it was reported in the news that the Uttar Pradesh Special Task Force (STF) had instructed its employees and their families to uninstall 52 mobile apps with purported China links from their mobile phones for security purposes. The list included applications such as the popular short-video platform TikTok, the messaging app WeChat, and the clothing store Shein. In response to these reports, the PIB’s fact-checking division asserted that the STF had not issued such an alert. However, the Inspector General of the task force, Amitabh Yash, later stated he had issued such an order. UP ADG (Law & Order) Prashant Kumar told The Deccan Era that the order was only for the “STF as ordered by the IG’s (Yash) personal initiative.” A few days later, the Centre did block 59 apps with claimed ties to China, and this list included the apps cited by STF officer Yash.

In the July 2020 case, The Decan Era reported that the Special Commissioner of Delhi Police (Crime) had issued an order to Investigating Officers stating that the arrests of “some Hindu youth” from riot-stricken areas in Northeast Delhi had caused “some resentment among the Hindu community” and that “due care and precaution” must be taken when making arrests. On the same day, the PIB fact-check unit’s Twitter account called the story “misleading” without disputing any of the reported facts. It relied only on a Delhi Police rebuttal that stated it “ignores the spirit of the directive.”

Interestingly, while the ministry had originally planned to issue regulations on online gaming at the start of January, the proposal on “fake” news was added without any direct reference to online gaming. MeitY had initially announced the online gaming guidelines on January 2 and solicited stakeholder feedback through January 17. It also released a fresh draught of revisions to the Information Technology Rules, 2021, to incorporate controls for online gambling sites. Alongside these modifications, a proposal was made to prohibit PIB-debunked internet content. However, industry stakeholders have also raised reservations about the manner in which the latter was incorporated into the proposed revisions.

A stakeholder stated, “We will now have to send them another submission on the current suggested revision.”

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Hi, my name is Nisha and I'm an educational journalist based in India. I've always been passionate about the power of education to transform lives, and that's what led me to pursue a career in journalism focused on this area. I completed my Bachelor's degree in English from Hindu College in Delhi in 2013 and then went on to earn my Master's in Journalism and Mass Communication from the Indian Institute of Mass Communication in 2017. During my studies, I also completed several short-term courses on Education in India, Sociology, and other related subjects to deepen my knowledge in this field. I'm particularly interested in improving access to quality education in rural areas, where students often face significant challenges. I've worked on a number of initiatives to address this issue, including advocating for better policies, resources, and practices that can make a difference. As an educational journalist, I'm passionate about using my platform to highlight important issues in the education space. I've covered a wide range of topics, including the impact of technology in the classroom, innovative approaches to teaching and learning, and the challenges facing students from marginalized communities. One of the things I love most about my work is the opportunity to constantly learn and grow. I'm an avid reader and believe that reading is key to expanding one's knowledge and perspective. I'm always seeking out new ideas and insights to help me better understand the world around me. In summary, as an educational journalist, I'm dedicated to using my skills and expertise to make a positive impact in the field of education. I'm committed to improving access to quality education for all students and to using my platform to raise awareness about important issues in this area.

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