PIB plans a fact-checking unit to counter fake news

The Press Information Bureau (PIB), the government’s nodal agency for dissemination of information, has decided to set up of a fact checking unit to identify and counter any fake news about the government and its policies circulating on social media platforms.

According to a senior functionary aware of the development, the ministry of information and broadcasting (MIB), under which PIB is a unit has approved a plan to counter fake news in real-time. No deadline has been set so far for the project to take off, but it is expected to pick pace over the coming weeks. Details of how the tracking will be done, and the kind of accounts that will be tracked, weren’t immediately available.

The fact check unit will have officials from the PIB as well as employees hired on contract to monitor platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Youtube to flag news that is fake and has the potential for creating social unrest.

“We will monitor and detect anything related to the government that is blatantly wrong, and put out correct information to ensure that people do not fall for wrong news,” the functionary quoted above said on condition of anonymity. He added that the possibility of penal action against those accounts found circulating fake news has not been discussed.

“We had a training session with a Hyderabad-based organisation, which does work in fact checking and putting out data that is meant for the public. Their experts helped us brainstorm on how to proceed with it,” the official said.

Countering fake news has been high on the government’s agenda; in 2016; the MIB suggested expanding its analytics wing to monitor social media and set up an early warning system for possible flashpoints that the government may be unprepared for. The social media analytics wing of the ministry, which is now defunct, scrutinized posts on social media platforms to generate reports for the Prime Minister’s Office, the National Security Advisor’ s Office and various intelligence bureaus, aside from ministries including home affairs, external affairs and defence.

In 2018, the ministry constituted a committee to frame rules to regulate news portals and media websites. During the recently concluded Lok Sabha election, the election commission also worked with social media platforms to identify and pull down posts that were fake and could lead to vitiating the elections.

As per EC’s data, 650 posts were taken down by Facebook for voter misinformation, hate speech, violation of the model code of conduct and public morality and decency. Similarly, Twitter took down 220 posts, Sharechat 31, Google 5 and Whatsapp, three.

Commenting on the government’s move to set up the fact check unit, Sunil Abraham, of the Centre for Internet and Society, a research organisation said, “It is a good move; but what the government also needs to do is to have a policy in place which makes it necessary for social media companies to pay for the negative externalities being circulated. If they make a certain amount in revenue from advertising then on a similar scale they need to fund the fact checking ecosystem.”

On Monday Congress leader Digvijay Singh also demanded a policy to check fake news. Speaking during Zero Hour in the Rajya Sabha, Singh said fake news is more dangerous than terrorism.

He said fake news and unparliamentary language used on social media platforms trigger communal riots and create societal divide. “Many people (tweeting fake news) are followed by big people,” he said without naming anyone.

First Published:
Jul 03, 2019 07:15 IST

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