US tech giants warn India’s fact-checking rule will ‘profoundly infringe’ on press freedom

The Asia Internet Coalition, an influential industry organization representing technology giants such as Facebook, Twitter, Google, Apple and Amazon, has voiced concerns over a recent amendment to India’s IT rules, saying the changes grant the local government expansive content removal authority without implementing adequate procedural safeguards.

India recently updated its IT rules, barring social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter from publishing, sharing or hosting false or misleading information about the government’s business affairs. Under the new regulations, these firms must rely on New Delhi’s own fact-checking unit to verify claims.

India is a key overseas market for Facebook, Twitter and Google. Facebook and Google have ploughed more than $15 billion into India in the past decade as they raced to win the last great growth market. Their services now reach more than half a billion users in India. The firms have previously pushed back against several of New Delhi’s proposals.

The amendments lack the “sufficient procedural safeguards” to protect people’s fundamental rights to access information, said Jeff Paine, managing director of AIC in a statement Monday.

Relying on a government agency such as the Press Information Bureau as the sole source to fact-check government business without giving it a clear definition or providing clear checks and balances “may lead to misuse during implementation of the law, which will profoundly infringe on press freedom,” Paine added.

The industry body recommended New Delhi to host industry-wide consultations and also “consider voluntary mechanisms to protect the benefits of the internet and keep people safe from harm.”

The pushback follows the Editors Guild of India saying earlier this month that it was deeply disturbed by the government’s move to police news on social media.

“All this is against principles of natural justice, and akin to censorship. The ministry’s notification of such draconian rules is therefore regrettable. The Guild again urges the ministry to withdraw this notification and conduct consultations with media organisations and press bodies,” the group said.

Rajeev Chandrasekhar, India minister of state for IT, said in an online discussion last week that it was “not true” that the government-appointed unit was planning to censor journalism.