The Indian government is considering a provision under the upcoming Digital India Bill that would require online fact-checking platforms to obtain registration from the government. This move aims to enhance accountability and regulate the activities of these platforms. The registration process may be implemented in phases, starting with fact-checking units of established media companies. The Digital India Bill, a part of the comprehensive legal framework for the online space, will classify various types of online intermediaries, including fact-checking portals.
The registration plan for online fact-checking platforms is expected to be carried out in phases, with the initial phase allowing "legacy and reputed" media companies to seek registration. This approach aims to prioritize established organizations that have a track record of reliable fact-checking. The government intends to prescribe specific rules for different types of intermediaries, and one such rule could be the requirement of government registration for fact-checking platforms.
Digital India Bill: Key Component of Comprehensive Legal Framework
The Digital India Bill is a crucial component of the comprehensive legal framework being developed by the Indian government for the online space. This framework also includes 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 Digital India Bill is expected to address various aspects of online intermediaries and user safety, including the registration of fact-checking organizations.
Exclusions and Classification
While the registration process details are yet to be finalized, there are discussions to exclude "non-legacy" fact-checking bodies from the registration requirement. This indicates that smaller or less established fact-checking organizations might not be required to register. The classification of various types of online intermediaries, including fact-checking portals, will allow the government to tailor specific rules and regulations to different categories of intermediaries.
Implications for the Online Landscape
The upcoming Digital India Bill could significantly change the principles governing online platforms. It may include provisions that redefine norms for safe harbour and impose greater responsibilities on intermediaries to tackle deliberate misinformation, impersonation, identity theft, catfishing, and cyberbullying, particularly involving children. The bill is also expected to address emerging technologies like generative AI platforms and their impact on user safety.
Controversies and Backlash
The government's attempts to regulate online fact-checking content have faced criticism and backlash. The Information Technology Rules 2023, implemented in April, introduced a government-backed fact-check unit empowered to label online content related to the government as "fake" or "misleading." However, this provision has sparked significant opposition, including a court case, with calls to repeal the provision. The government has delayed notifying the fact-checking unit until July 5.
The inclusion of a registration requirement for online fact-checking platforms in the Digital India Bill demonstrates the government's commitment to ensuring greater accountability in the online space. By prescribing specific rules and regulations for different types of intermediaries, the government aims to regulate and enhance the quality of fact-checking activities. As the bill progresses, it will be essential to strike a balance between accountability and freedom of expression while addressing the concerns of various stakeholders in the online ecosystem.