New Delhi: As part of the proposed Digital India Bill, the Union government may make it mandatory for online fact-checking platforms to register with the government, in order to ensure greater accountability from these platforms, the Indian Express reported.
If the proposed plan goes ahead, the government wants to roll out the registration process in a phased manner. To begin with, in the first phase, fact-checking units of the “legacy and reputed” media companies will be allowed to obtain registration, followed by others.
Such a move to enforce registration on fact-checking units is part of the government’s efforts, through the upcoming Digital India Bill, to classify various kinds of online intermediaries, including fact-checking portals. The classification of online intermediaries is to bring in a different set of rules for each of the classified groups.
According to the government, the proposed Bill will regulate a wide gamut of digital services including social media platforms. It will incorporate provisions from the draft Digital Personal Data Protection Bill, 2022, the proposed Indian Telecommunication Bill, 2022, and a policy for governance and handling of non-personal data. The government dubs it a “comprehensive legal framework” for regulating the online space. The first draft of the Digital India Bill is expected to be ready by June end or early July.
“The Ministry is in the final stages of drafting the Bill. For fact-checkers, there is a consideration that they should be registered with the government,” a senior official told IE. “There is also a plan to not register ‘non-legacy’ fact-checking bodies.”
Efforts to regulate online fact-checking units have been in place for some time. In April 2023, the government notified Information Technology Rules, 2023, which led to the establishment of a government-backed fact-check unit. The body has been empowered to label online content pertaining to the Union government as “fake” or “misleading”. However, it has also come under criticism from several quarters, including a court case which called for the repeal of the provision.
As the Wire reported earlier, the government-backed fact-checking unit – which is also tasked with responding to these queries with correct information and flagging any misinformation or false information on social media – received nearly 1.2 lakh requests for fact-checking information on the internet in the last three years. However, it has only acted upon 1,223 of them – a modest 1% action rate.