Coronavirus fake news: Indian government asks social media companies to curb spread of COVID-19 misinformation

“The directive requires all social media companies to actively monitor and remove fake news related to the coronavirus pandemic on their platforms”

The government of India has issued a directive asking all social media companies to proactively curb misinformation and fake news circulating on their platforms with reference to the coronavirus pandemic. As per the government’s directive, social media companies are deemed as intermediaries as per the Information Technology Act, 2000, and are therefore required to comply with legal regulations that govern such intermediaries. With the virus spreading across India and country on a full lockdown, there is a fear that misinformation being spread on platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook will cause unnecessary panic.

As per the directive, the Indian government has stated that social media companies are “required to follow due diligence as prescribed in the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines) Rules 2011 notified under section 79 of the IT Act. They must inform their users not to host, display, upload, modify, publish, transmit, update or share any information that may affect public order and unlawful in any way.”

In light of this, social media intermediaries are now required to actively initiate and host awareness campaigns that discourage their users from uploading or sharing any piece of fake news, without verifying the source and contents of the information shared. All companies that qualify as social media and have an active user base are also required to immediately take down any such misinformative post as soon as they are spotted, which suggests that the companies are also required to actively monitor such content. The firms have also been encouraged to create an official, authentic channel of communication for its users to get access to factual coronavirus-related information from.

Many firms are taking such actions based on the directive. Google had already stated a host of actions to be taken, primarily restricting advertisements based on coronavirus. WhatsApp has announced an association with the World Health Organisation to introduce an official automated helpline, to which users can text on and receive official, verified information regarding coronavirus.

Fake news and misinformation are particularly critical in times of a global viral pandemic, since it can fatally spread rumours about unverified cures and illogical practices. As a result of this, many individuals may find themselves worse off due to following of such misleading ideas, and it is important to have official, verified information sources to follow.