Draconian rules

Context : This editorial is a critical analysis of the IT (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Amendment Rules, 2023 , and specifically the rules which are dealing with the issue of fake news. This write up sheds light on the recently added provisions and argues how these rules are in contravention to the Fundamental Right of free speech and expression as enshrined in Article 19 of the Indian constitution.

Fake news 

  • Fake news is an inaccurate, sometimes sensationalistic report that is created to gain attention, mislead, deceive or damage a reputation. 

Implications of Fake News

  • Conditioning of knowledge – Levels of penetration of social media has enabled the spread of fake news as a wild fire.  In lack of proper authentication check soon it becomes a validated knowledge thus helping in creating a wrongly modulated environment against or in favour of anything. For ex : Our national anthem being recognised as worlds best anthem by UNESCO.
  • Polarization and Politicization –  Fake news is being used as a tool by political parties as well as prominent news channels to build a narrative which is suitable to their cause. The end result is again a fabricated environment, which often serves a narrow objective. For ex. Union Home ministry used the picture of Spain Morocco border in its annual report to show that it had installed floodlights in border areas.
  • Social Disharmony – Fake narratives often creates hatred among communities , this results into incitement of violence. Fake news has also been used to radicalization of youth which poses threat to national security at various levels. For ex . Use of fake news in Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013 ; and recent Fake videos of migrant workers in Tamilnadu which created an atmosphere of fear and stress among the population.

Regulations in India

  • India does not have a robust and exclusive framework for curbing the menace of the fake news.
  • However government by the use of Section 69A of the Information technology Act, 2000, has granted itself greater power to strike down any unpalatable content. 
  • Some provisions of The Disaster Management Act 2005 and the Epidemic Diseases Act 1897 are evoked to regulate the fake news.
  • Indian Penal Code 1860 deals with fake news specifically causing riots and defamation cases.
  • Government has come up with the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 , or IT Rules, 2021 to regulate content by online publishers of news and social media intermediaries.
  • Now recent amendments in this Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, have drawn criticism from various experts , who term it as an attempt by government to curb the exercise of free speech and expression.


Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY) has notified the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics) Rules, 2021 to regulate IT intermediaries such as Twitter, Facebook and digital media outlets. While many IT intermediaries have complied to these rules Twitter has failed to comply with them.


Privacy versus National Security – The rules only make superficial attempts at balancing privacy and security interests as security interests are being given primacy over both civil liberty interests as well as economic interests.

Breaking End-to-end Encryption – The traceability obligation (i.e. to track—and be able to identify—the originator of any message) in the new rules is problematic as it would amount to breaking end-to-end encryption provided for all users on platforms such as WhatsApp. This will give greater powers of surveillance to state over personal affairs of citizens and tantamount to interference in right to privacy.

Data Theft & Hacking – Breaking of end-to-end encryption will increase chances of data theft and hacking.

Traceability clause capable of misuse – The rule as it’s currently drafted is vague and this allows the government to use traceability power in a broad way and therefore open to misuse. Thus, to use traceability powers, court must clarify the grounds and circumstances for its use by state authorities.

Limited Purview of IT Act – Regarding digital news and media portals, the purview of the Information Technology Act, 2000, is limited. It only extends to the blocking of websites and intermediary liabilities framework but does not extend to content authors and creators.

Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics code) Amendment rules, 2023

Objective: Government Notified Amendments for an Open, Safe, Trusted and Accountable Internet. These amendments layout a comprehensive framework for Online Gaming Eco-system and also deals with Fact checking related to online content pertaining to Government.

Amendments: It has been made obligatory on the part of intermediaries to make reasonable effort to not host, publish or share any online game that can cause the user harm, or the content that has not been verified as a permissible online game by an online gaming self-regulatory body/bodies designated by the Central Government. The self-regulatory body will have the authority to inquire and satisfy itself that the online game does not involve wagering on any outcome.The amended rules also cast additional obligations on online gaming intermediaries in relation to online games involving real money.

These include the displaying of a mark of verification by the self-regulatory body on such games;informing their users of the policy for withdrawal or refund of deposit, manner of determination and distribution of winnings, fees and other charges payable; obtaining the KYC details of the users; and not giving credit or enabling financing by third parties to the users.The amended rules now also make it obligatory on the intermediaries to not to publish, share or host fake, false or misleading information in respect of any business of the Central Government. These fake, false or misleading information will identified by the notified Fact Check Unit of the Central Government.

Concern About These Amendments:

It is in contravention to “safe harbour” protections in Section 79 of the IT Act, which allows intermediaries to avoid liabilities for what third parties post on their websites. These notified amendments can bypass Section 69A of the IT Act, 2000 which elucidates the procedure to issue takedown orders. According to author , a threat to remove a platform’s immunity for content that is flagged by a government unit, would create a “chilling effect” on the right to speech and expression on online platforms. 

Challenges in Curbing fake news in India 

  • Regulation vs Rights Conundrum  – Flagging of fake news often gets entangled between debate of intention. While those proponent term it as necessity to maintain tranquillity and order, critics term it as attempt of curbing free speech.
  • Low Digital literacy – As per India Inequality report 2022 , around 70% of the population has poor or no digital connectivity. Now such a low level of digital literacy acts as a barrier in verification and authenticity of the news.
  • No dedicated framework – Lack of robust and exclusive framework has affected the efforts in curbing fake news at every stages. For ex- insufficient infrastructure for verification, no penalties etc all have contributed in flourishing of this trend.
  • Inherent Nature of ICT – Anonymity of content creator poses greatest challenge in front of the regulatory bodies as well as intermediaries to track and address the issue of fake news.

Way forward

  • Users 
    • Digital literacy about verification and authentication of any published facts or reports should be promoted.
    • Sensitization of publishers and content creators about the impacts and repercussions of the fake news and its propagations.
  • Intermediaries
    • Should be encouraged to formulate policy and actions in tracking and removing fake news.
  • Government 
    • Strengthening Regulations and their application is of utmost importance. Fact check mechanism should be made robust and effective. 
    • Transparency in identification and regulation should be adopted to address the concerns of various stakeholders.

PYQ – UPSC CSE Mains 2015

Q. Use of internet and social media by non-state actors for subversive activities is a major security concern. How have these been misused in the recent past? Suggest effective guidelines to curb the above threat.

Source: The Hindu

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