Close to 700 URLs have been blocked by social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter this year, with the government saying it has asked these companies to find technological solutions to ensure that rumours and fake news do not proliferate on their platforms.
Addressing members’ concerns during Question Hour in the Rajya Sabha, Minister for Electronics and IT Ravi Shankar Prasad said while the government was pressing for more accountability of social media companies, it was clear that the right of the people to raise questions has to be upheld.
There is a need to have a consensus on what constitutes fake news, Prasad said. The minister said several URLs have been blocked by these companies in compliance with the provisions of the Information Technology Act in recent past. He said till June this year, the number of URLs blocked by Facebook was 499, YouTube 57, Twitter 88, Instagram 25 and Tumblr 28.
Prasad was responding to several members who had raised questions about the spread of fake news on social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp and sought to know what the government was doing in this regard. Some incidents of lynching were also linked to the spread of fake news.
He said the government has impressed upon these companies that India being an emerging digital power, they were free to do their business here, but technological solutions have to be found to check the menace of misuse of their platforms. Prasad suggested that the companies could not simply evade responsibility for the contents on their platforms and they could even be seen as abettors.
He said it “does not really need rocket science to find solution to the problem” and added that the social media platforms had been asked to take steps. He mentioned the appointment of grievance officers by such companies as one possible measure. The minister said there was a need to rise above party lines to tackle the important issue.
Asked by a member if the government could consult the Press Council of India to address the issue, Prasad said some instructions in this regard were given only recently. Responding to other questions, Prasad said the solutions to a lot of problems could be found under the ambit of the existing laws. “We are trying to find administrative and technological solutions, he said.