India Urges Social Media Platforms to Take Down Posts Spreading Fake COVID-19 Info

In February of this year, the Indian federal government threatened Twitter with legal consequences after which the microblogging app removed certain accounts listed by the authorities. The accounts had allegedly spread provocative sentiments on social media with specific hashtags pertaining to the raging farmer protests.

India’s Ministry of Information Technology has asked social media platforms to take down at least 100 posts, claiming them to be spreading fake info about the COVID situation in the country, the Indian media reported on Sunday, citing sources from MeITY.

These posts carried unrelated/old/out of context images/visuals, misinfo about COVID protocols, the Ministry of Electronics & IT(MeitY) sources were quoted by the Indian agency ANI as saying.

The move comes on the recommendation of the Ministry of Home Affairs.

An official from the Ministry of Information Technology was quoted saying, “This decision has been taken to prevent obstructions in the fight against the pandemic and escalation of public order due to these posts. At a time when the entire country is putting up a brave and honest effort to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, certain people are misusing social media to create panic”.

The Indian government has been blaming fake info campaigns on social media of spreading false news and creating panic, in addition to spreading rumours against domestically-developed vaccines. 

Earlier this year, the federal government dealt sternly with Twitter, issuing warnings of legal consequences, as the microblogging site dithered in complying with a government order to suspend about 500 accounts for violation of Twitter rules. 

The Ministry of Information Technology had insisted that the accounts indulged in inciting violence, abuse, or threats during protests by farmers in Delhi. On 26 January, the protests by farmers against three new farm laws took a violent turn in Delhi. The violence was allegedly fuelled by misinformation and provocations spread on social media.

An official post from Twitter, while reiterating its advocacy of free speech, said that it had taken action on hundreds of accounts that violated the site’s rules, especially after the Republic Day clashes between farmers and police officials in Delhi on 26 January.

“We took steps to reduce the visibility of the hashtags containing harmful content, which included prohibiting them from Trending on Twitter and appearing as recommended search terms”, Twitter had said. 

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