Govt alerts YouTube about 9 channels spreading misinformation about central govt
The Press Information Bureau's Fact Check Unit has fact-checked videos from nine YouTube channels spreading misinformation.
The Press Information Bureau’s Fact Check Unit fact checked scores of videos from nine YouTube channels on Friday that spread misinformation about central government’s schemes, the prime minister, the chief justice of India, and the state of public order in the country. These nine channels, which include channels called Bajran Education, Daily Study, Bj News and Sarkari Yojana Official, have more than 83 lakh subscribers.
Videos that were fact checked falsely claimed, amongst other things, that the central government had banned EVMs and would decrease the price of petrol and LPG cylinders. Some videos also claimed that the president’s rule had been imposed across the country and that internet services had been shut down. Other videos falsely claimed that the chief justice of India had initiated legal proceedings against the prime minister.
On Friday, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting sent YouTube an email, alerting the platform about these channels, HT has learnt. It is understood that YouTube has not sent a response yet.
This is not the first time the MIB has alerted YouTube about misinformation related to the central government on its platform. When such alerts are sent, YouTube carries out its own due diligence to determine the seriousness of the content. Based on that, it can take a variety of actions against the channel, ranging from its usual 3-strikes policy to terminating the account in case of severe abuse.
On receiving such alerts in the past, YouTube eventually terminated at least three accounts, HT has learnt.
“All content identified as misinformation may or may not violate our content policies... If you want to, say, upload a video that no human has ever landed on the moon before, we think that that is probably a video that should be allowed to be on YouTube because there’s no risk of egregious real world harm based off of it. But that doesn’t mean we want to recommend that content,” said Timothy Katz, director and global head of responsibility at YouTube, said on Thursday at Google’s Delhi office.
“But there might be... misinformation about when or how to vote that does have egregious role and consequences. That would be something that we would want to remove from the platform. I think it depends on the nature of the type of content,” Katz explained.
Alerts are not orders
These alerts are not takedown orders that the MIB issues under Rule 16 of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021. Such blocking orders can only be issued for six reasons: in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States or public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognizable offence relating to above. Misinformation or fake news are not amongst the recognised reasons.
A senior government official said that such alerts are to help the platforms carry out their own due diligence. “We are not asking them to remove the content. That is their call to make depending on the gravity of the content,” he said.
“Certain types of misleading or deceptive content with serious risk of egregious harm are not allowed on YouTube. This includes certain types of misinformation that can cause real-world harm, certain types of technically manipulated content, or content interfering with democratic processes,” YouTube’s policy on misinformation states.
“Who determines what is considered ‘serious risk’? Their policy has a very high threshold for tolerating harm and by the time the magnitude of harm is assessed, it is too late,” a second senior government official said.
Another issue with such channels is that they make money from spreading disinformation through YouTube Ads. “The misinformation industry has mushroomed and monetisation acts as an incentive for them. Such channels should at the minimum be demonetised,” the second official said.
Under the law and as per the Supreme Court’s Shreya Singhal judgement of 2015, social media platforms cannot act as arbiters of speech and are obligated to take action only when they have “actual knowledge”, that is, either a court order or an order from an authorised government agency. Intimation about fact checks by PIB do not suffice as “actual knowledge”. The PIB FCU was announced by the PIB in a tweet on 29 November 2019. Its existence has no statutory backing.
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