News Brief

India vs Big Tech in Latest Fake News Battleground

India has become the latest battleground country where global tech companies and government are fighting over the boundaries between fake news and free speech — and how far nations should be regulating social media.

Last week companies including Google Facebook and Amazon pushed back against draft regulations issued by the Indian authorities to police fake news and control outbreaks of violence related to disinformation, as the world’s largest democracy looks ahead to elections later this spring.

In a letter to the Indian government, the Asian Internet Coalition, the tech industry body, complained that the new regulations contain “burdensome obligations” for companies and might create “an unreasonable restriction on…freedom of speech.” There are also worries that the new regulations will weaken user privacy.

In their current draft, the regulations would force major social media websites to delete unlawful posts within 24 hours of being told about them, as well as to “proactively” find and delete illegal content. The criteria for deletion include harming “interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India” or “public order, decency or morality.” The government has launched a hashtag campaign, #SaferSocialMedia, to support the new regulations.

Though the law is controversial for its sweep, the problems it addresses are widely recognized. Over the summer, Indian mob violence fueled by fake news on WhatsApp drew global concern.

The debate in India is part of a global trend of social media regulation that has accelerated since the 2016 US election. Germany passed a social media law in 2017, which also forces companies to remove unlawful content within 24 hours. The German law has been criticized across the political spectrum for being too censorious. Singapore, the Philippines, and Russia also have drafted similar laws.