Updated: January 22, 2022 4:21:54 am
A month after it invoked new powers under the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 to get 20 YouTube channels banned, the Information and Broadcasting Ministry on Friday said it has issued orders to ban 35 more channels on the online social media platform after receiving intelligence inputs against them.
These channels, with more than 100 crore views, were all based in Pakistan, ministry officials said. They were involved in spreading “anti-India fake news in a coordinated manner over digital media”, they said.
It also passed orders to block two websites, two Twitter accounts, two Instagram accounts and one Facebook account.
The ministry said in a statement that five separate orders were issued to block the websites and YouTube channels after intelligence agencies, which were closely monitoring these social media accounts and websites, flagged them to the ministry for “immediate action”. The ministry issued issued the orders to block them immediately after it received the intelligence inputs on Thursday.
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The 35 accounts were all operating from Pakistan, and were identified to be part of four coordinated disinformation networks, the ministry said. It identified two of them as Apni Duniya Network, which was operating 14 YouTube channels, and Talha Films Network, which was operating 13 YouTube channels. “All these networks appeared to be operated with a single goal of spreading fake news oriented towards the Indian audience,” the ministry said.
THE USE of Intelligence inputs to regulate online content comes in the wake of increased anti-India propaganda on social media by pro-Pakistan channels and sites. To curb the challenge, officials said, more such channels and sites are likely to be blocked.
The channels used common hashtags and editing styles, and cross promoted each other’s content. Some of the channels were being operated by anchors of Pakistani TV news channels.
“The channels propagated content to encourage separatism, divide India on the lines of religion, and create animosity among the various sections of the Indian society. Such information was feared to have the potential to incite the audience into commission of crimes adversely affecting public order in the country,” the ministry statement said.
Speaking to reporters, I&B Secretary Apurva Chandra said the channels had combined subscribers strength of 1.2 crore and had more than 130 crore views. These, he said, were “very, very toxic channels”. “It was sort of a war against the country. War of misinformation,” he said.
The ministry invoked Section 69A of IT Act, 2000 to get the channels blocked.
Chandra said that in December last year, the ministry had blocked 20 YouTube channels and two websites after receiving intelligence inputs. Fresh intelligence inputs were received by the ministry on Thursday,” he said. The common factor in the blocked channels was that “they operate from Pakistan and spread fake anti-India content”.
He highlighted that the content was on “serious issues” such as “Indian Armed Forces, Jammu and Kashmir, India’s foreign relations, separatist ideas,” and the recent death of Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat.
He said the “intelligence agencies are now alive to this issue” and added that “now since this process has started, I’m sure more and more such channels will get blocked”. He asked for people to send the ministry inputs on any channel or website involved in propagating such content.
Speaking about the role of intermediaries such as YouTube and Facebook among others, Chandra said it is their responsibility also, and such content “should get flagged in their system”. However, he added, the ministry has received a “very good response” from the intermediaries. In December, when the last such order was issued, they implemented it within 24 hours, and blocked them “at the global level”.
The channels have been ordered to be blocked invoking emergency powers, however, Joint Secretary Vikram Sahay said an inter-departmental committee will review the orders. The panel is expected to meet next week.
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