The requirement to register online fact-checkers is being conceived as part of the proposed Digital India Bill, which, the government says, will ensure greater accountability from the platforms.
Online fact-checking platforms could be required to obtain a registration from the Centre, as part of a government plan to seek greater accountability from them. The measure is currently being considered as a key provision under the upcoming Digital India Bill, successor to India’s core Internet law of 2000, The Indian Express has learnt.
The registration plan could be carried out in phases, with fact-checking units of “legacy and reputed” media companies being allowed to seek registration in the first phase, a senior government official said.
The upcoming Digital India Bill would classify various kinds of online intermediaries, including fact-checking portals. The classification of online intermediaries is to bring in a different set of rules for each of the classified groups.
According to the government, the proposed Bill will regulate a wide gamut of digital services including social media platforms. It will incorporate provisions from the draft Digital Personal Data Protection Bill, 2022, the proposed Indian Telecommunication Bill, 2022, and a policy for governance and handling of non-personal data. The government dubs it a “comprehensive legal framework” for regulating the online space. The first draft of the Digital India Bill is expected to be ready by June end or early July.
“The Ministry is in the final stages of drafting the Bill. For fact-checkers, there is a consideration that they should be registered with the government,”
a senior official told IE. He also noted that there is also a plan to “not register ‘non-legacy’ fact-checking bodies.”
Efforts to regulate online fact-checking units have been in place for some time. In April 2023, the government notified Information Technology Rules, 2023, which led to the establishment of a government-backed fact-check unit. The body has been empowered to label online content pertaining to the Union government as “fake” or “misleading”. However, it has also come under criticism from several quarters, including a court case which called for the repeal of the provision.
As the Wire reported earlier, the government-backed fact-checking unit – which is also tasked with responding to these queries with correct information and flagging any misinformation or false information on social media – received nearly 1.2 lakh requests for fact-checking information on the internet in the last three years. However, it has only acted upon 1,223 of them – a modest 1% action rate.