The Government of India has requested apps such as TikTok and Facebook not to take cases of users spreading misinformation around coronavirus lightly, and remove them from the platform to curb further spread of potentially harmful news.
The order was spotted by Reuters, which cites government sources talking about the matter. It comes just days after the report by Delhi-based digital analytics firm Voyager Infosec, which investigated videos targetted at a particular religion, undermining the severity of the COVID-19 epidemic and asking them to have faith in God. These went viral on social media soon after.
Our Digital Investigation Report on massive #Disinformation and #FakeNews Campaigns Targeting and Influencing Indian Muslims to ignore #COVID19 Health Advisories in the Name of Islam and Not Follow #SocialDistanacing and #lockdown advisories.@IndiaToday @AnkiitKoomar pic.twitter.com/T4sQfTYt7KApril 3, 2020
The letter from India’s IT ministry, dated April 5, not only asked these platforms to remove the said pieces of content but also preserve their details for law enforcement purposes when requested. It further explained how such messages had the power to weaken all the steps being taken by the government as well as create panic. “You need to ensure that such rogue messages do not go viral.”
While the virus has been spreading exponentially, the news and rumors around it have been way faster. At crucial times like this, they pose a danger to public life and property. The World Health Organisation calls this an “infodemic” of misinformation that accompanies the virus. As India approaches stage 3 of transmission with over 5,000 reported cases, even smaller mishaps can snowball into something uncontrollable.
TikTok released a statement saying it will “actively work with the government” and support their efforts to fight misinformation. Similarly, Facebook has also been working on consciously getting rid of fake news from its platform. WhatsApp is also bringing a few changes in place to control the spread of rumors on the app.