Heated govt meet with Big Tech on fake news

AgenciesUpdated: Thursday, February 03, 2022, 08:34 AM IST
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Officials have held heated discussions with Google, Twitter and Facebook for not proactively removing what they described as fake news on their platforms, sources told ‘Reuters’. This is the government’s latest altercation with Big Tech.

The officials, from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B), strongly criticised the companies and said their inaction on fake news was forcing the government to order content takedowns, which in turn drew international criticism that authorities were suppressing free expression, two sources said.

The sources, who were familiar with the proceedings at the virtual meeting on Monday, described the conversation as tense and heated, signalling a new low in ties between American tech giants and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration. The officials did not issue any ultimatum to the companies at the meeting, the sources said.

The government has been tightening tech sector regulations but wants companies to do more on content moderation. The meeting was a follow-up to the I&B ministry’s use of “emergency powers” in December and January to order the blocking of 55 channels on Google’s YouTube platform, and some Twitter and Facebook accounts.

The government had said the channels were promoting “fake news” or “anti-India” content and the disinformation was being spread by accounts based in neighbouring Pakistan.

The I&Bministry didnot respond to a request for comment on the meeting, which was also attended by domestic content-sharing platforms ShareChat and Koo, which have millions of users in the country.

Facebook, now known as Meta, Twitter and ShareChat declined comment. Without commenting on the meeting, Alphabet Inc’s Google said in a statement it reviews government’s requests and “where appropriate, we restrict or remove content in keeping with local laws”.

Koo said it complies with local laws and has strong content moderation practices in place. In its transparency reports, Twitterhas said the Indiangovernment makes among the highest number of requests to remove contentfrom its platform.

Technology website Comparitech in October said India made 97,631 content removal requests in 2020, the second-highest in the world after Russia, mostly to Facebook and Google. The government was disappointed that big social media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter, weren't detecting and removing such content on their own.

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