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How the Indian government aims to take the role of independent fact-checkers

Last week, the Indian government passed a law that grants one of its own agencies the power to determine whether online content is factual.

The fact-checking unit will function similarly to how third-party fact-checking already works at social media companies. Fact-checkers will have the ability to flag content related to the government as false or misleading — which in turn leads to content deamplification, demotion or removal — except the process will be controlled unilaterally by the government’s fact-checking unit.

The unit was set up, in part, in opposition to the International Fact-Checking Network, a global organization of signatories to a code of fact-checking principles, on which social media companies already rely to evaluate the veracity of online content. Some officials in India didn’t like that foreign organizations are in control of that process, The Indian Express reported.

“The Indian government’s recent decision to mandate by law the creation of an official state fact-checking body is not an unexpected move. The government had already set up a unit under its Press Information Bureau, calling itself a ‘fact check unit’,” said Jency Jacob, the managing editor of BOOM Fact Check, an Indian fact-checking organization and signatory to the IFCN code of principles. “This unit often issued press releases calling it fact-checking even when its statements were being disputed by journalists.”

Jacob said the mandate was an effort to create more legal opportunities for the government to enforce content.

“While no one can deny that the spread of misinformation causes real-life harm and disturbances in society and there are valid reasons for it to be dealt by law in some extreme cases, no government can be fully trusted to use it fairly without raising concerns of violation of freedom of speech, especially against those who are critical of the government,” Jacob said.

It remains unclear how the government will use the rules in practice.

“Giving any government body the power to force social media platforms to take down stories that they deem false is fraught with danger and can lead to indirect censorship,” Jacob said. “It may also lead to a chilling effect in some newsrooms, where stories that concern the central government might not get reported to avoid falling foul of the new law.”


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    • With H3N2 cases on the rise, the internet is rife with rumours and misinformation. Can home remedies protect individuals from this virus? Can those with severe acute respiratory infections or influenza-like illnesses count on home-made juices and concoctions to fight the ailment?”
  • FactChecker.In: Congress Party’s Claim about Farmers’ Income Is Incorrect (English)
    • “On March 12, 2023, the Indian National Congress (INC) shared a video on its Twitter page highlighting the hardships faced by farmers under the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government. The video had several claims about farmer debt, monthly income of farmers and cases of suicide among agricultural labourers and farmers.”
  • Les Vérificateurs: Have thousands of electric scooters been abandoned in a landfill? (French)
    • “With the emergence of electric vehicles, the difficulty of recycling materials, and in particular batteries, inevitably arises. As a result, according to a video shared online, landfills would accommodate electric scooters at the end of their life rather than recycling them. … But these viral images instead show vehicles stored in China for regulatory reasons.”
  • The Logical Indian: False Communal Spin Given To Massive Explosion In Uttar Pradesh (English)
    • A set of videos showing a massive explosion in Bulandshahr, Uttar Pradesh, has been widely circulated by media outlets. The viral videos have been shared with the claim alleging that the blast occurred at Mohammad Shafiq’s house, where several people died.” 


From the news: 

  • Student Suicides Increased by More Than 30% Between 2017 And 2021: “The National Crime Record Bureau’s (NCRB) Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India (ADSI) report contains comprehensive data on suicides in the country based on the data collated by State/UT police departments. As per the ADSI report, both the number of suicides and the rate of suicides has been increasing in India since 2017 after a decline.” (Factly, Pavithra K M)
  • Almost all food prices continued to rise in March: “Between February and March, of the eight food categories used by INE to calculate inflation, only one recorded a drop in prices. This continuous trend of pressure on costs borne by consumers already means that food products contribute to 58% of the total year-on-year inflation rate recorded in the country.” (Publico, Sergio Aníbal,)

From/for the community: 

  • “Poynter and the International Fact-Checking Network are announcing the opening of applications for funding to support fact-checking initiatives worldwide and reduce the harm of misinformation. Organizations may apply beginning April 14, 2023, to the newly created Global Fact Check Fund for the first phase of the multi-year program, funded by a $13.2 million grant from Google and YouTube.This opening phase is known as BUILD, and is aimed at fact-checking organizations who seek to scale or upgrade their online presence. Funds can be used for improving website development, domain hosting, content management systems, publishing tools, or improving security and resilience against hacking and other threats.”
  • Google and YouTube are partnering with the International Fact-Checking Network to distribute a $13.2 million grant to the international fact-checking community. “The world needs fact-checking more than ever before. This partnership with Google and YouTube infuses financial support to global fact-checkers and is a step in the right direction,” said Baybars Örsek, former executive director of the IFCN. “And while there’s much work to be done, this partnership has sparked meaningful collaboration and an important step.”
  • The IFCN has awarded $450,000 in grant support to organizations working to lessen the impact of false and misleading information on WhatsApp. In partnership with Meta, the Spread the Facts Grant Program gives verified fact-checking organizations resources to identify, flag and reduce the spread of misinformation that threatens more than 100 billion messages each day. The grant supports eleven projects from eight countries: India, Spain, Nigeria, Georgia, Bolivia, Italy, Indonesia and Jordan. Read more about the announcement here.
  • IFCN job announcements: Program Officer and Monitoring & Evaluation Specialist

Factually is a newsletter about fact-checking and misinformation from Poynter’s International Fact-Checking Network. Sign up here to receive it in your email every other Thursday.

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