PIB’s fact-checking unit makes a comeback: Lack of time trumps credibility concerns | Technology News

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The Centre’s plan to put in place a fact check unit involved multiple flip flops. In January 2023, the IT Ministry released a draft set of rules saying that the Press Information Bureau’s fact check unit will flag misinformation related to the government on social media platforms. In April, when it notified the final rules, it dropped the mention of the PIB. But, on Wednesday, in a notification, it said it would be the PIB’s fact check unit that would be conferred with those powers.

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Two government officials The Indian Express spoke to said that PIB’s name was first dropped in April due to concerns over its credibility, but the unit made a comeback in the final notification on Wednesday because the government wanted to rush to have a fact check unit with legal powers with an eye on the upcoming polls. Content flagged as fake by the unit will have to be taken down by platforms like Facebook, YouTube and telcos Airtel, Jio and Vi, failing which they may risk facing litigation.

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This paper has learnt that during internal discussions within the government after the first draft with PIB’s name was released in January 2023, there were concerns that the PIB’s fact check unit may not have the capacity to deal with the amount of information online. But more importantly, there were also apprehensions about the unit’s perceived public credibility, given that in the past, it had itself flagged correct information as fake.

“After we released the draft in January proposing PIB’s fact check unit to have legal powers, during inter-ministerial discussions, there were concerns that were raised on the unit’s credibility in the public eye, and whether going ahead with it would be a good move considering the optics,” a senior government official said, requesting anonymity.

The IT Ministry did not respond to an immediate request for comment.

The Indian Express had earlier reported that even beyond concerns that the PIB’s fact check unit may have legal powers to mark potentially critical information related to the government as fake, the unit also had a history of incorrectly stamping a ‘fake’ sign on information about some government missives which were in fact true.

These concerns, the official quoted above said, prompted the government to drop the mention of PIB’s fact check unit when it notified the rules in April 2023. At the time, the hope was that the IT Ministry would lead an effort to create a new fact check unit with participation from officials from other ministries and external consultants.

This new unit, at that time, was supposed to have four key members: a representative from the IT Ministry, one from the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, a “media expert” and a “legal expert”.

However, around the time that work was starting on this capacity building, came the lawsuits in the Bombay High Court, challenging the validity of the fact check unit – putting its existence in jeopardy – which stalled the ministry’s progress as it stopped to wait for the outcome of the judgement.

The judgement took time. In January, a division Bench of the court gave a split verdict in the matter, with one judge ordering a stay and the other upholding it. It was only earlier this month that a third judge, who was assigned to give an opinion on the split verdict, refused to grant a stay on a notification – effectively giving the go-ahead to the government to notify the fact-check unit.

However, with the Lok Sabha elections now nearing, the model code of conduct in place, and key personnel occupied in election work, the efforts to create a separate fact-check unit died down.

“The government wanted to notify this body before the elections because it is an important rule, and we believe it will help during the elections when misinformation on the Internet typically soars. So because of the lack of time, we had to resort to an already functioning PIB fact check unit which has existing capacity for this, and designate that as the statutory body,” a second government official said.

© The Indian Express Pvt Ltd

Soumyarendra Barik is Special Correspondent with The Indian Express and reports on the intersection of technology, policy and society. With over five years of newsroom experience, he has reported on issues of gig workers’ rights, privacy, India’s prevalent digital divide and a range of other policy interventions that impact big tech companies. He once also tailed a food delivery worker for over 12 hours to quantify the amount of money they make, and the pain they go through while doing so. In his free time, he likes to nerd about watches, Formula 1 and football. … Read More

First uploaded on: 21-03-2024 at 05:02 IST




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