With data protection concerns reaching a fever pitch the world over, the Indian government has asked all social media platforms to take prompt action against fake messages, including tracing their origin. It has also written to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to inquire into the Cambridge Analytica case.
UK-based political consultancy Cambridge Analytica was at the centre of the Facebook data breach row, including those of around 562,000 Indian users. It reportedly stopped responding to letters from the IT ministry after initial responses, prompting the government to order a CBI probe into the matter.
In a response to a calling attention motion in the Rajya Sabha on the misuse of social media platforms and the propagation of fake news causing unrest and violence, Ravi Shankar Prasad, electronics and IT minister, said: “It is suspected that Cambridge Analytica may have been involved in illegally obtaining data of Indians which could be misused. The government has entrusted this issue to be investigated by the CBI for possible violation of the Information Technology Act, 2000 and IPC.”
Further, the minister informed that media platforms have been directed to work with Indian government officials to receive grievances in real time and also to inform law enforcement agencies.
“They (social media platforms) will have to ensure that their platforms do not become vehicles of promoting hatred, terrorism money laundering, mob violence, and rumour mongering,” said Prasad.
The development comes in line with the massive Cambridge Analytica data leak reportedly involving 87 Mn users. The London-based Cambridge Analytica claimed to have licensed data from Global Science Research (GSR) of 30 Mn individuals, not 87 Mn. However, it has reportedly shut down its operations in the UK and will soon file bankruptcy proceedings in the US.
In its first notice, Cambridge Analytica had said that it did not have any Facebook data on Indian citizens, whereas Facebook responded by saying that data of an estimated 562,455 Indians may have been harvested through 335 app installations by Indians.
Fake News Triggers Horrific Crimes
In the past few months, reports surfaced that at least 31 people have been killed in the last year in 10 different Indian states by lynch mobs mobilised by rumours of child-lifting that were spread on WhatsApp.
Following such reports, the ministry wrote a letter to WhatsApp saying that the messaging app can’t “evade accountability and responsibility, especially when good technological inventions are abused by some miscreants who resort to provocative messages which lead to spread of violence.”
After this, WhatsApp published full-page advertisements in prominent English and Hindi newspapers warning readers on fake news. WhatsApp said it would introduce the ‘Forwards’ label to indicate which messages are forwards.
Soon after that, senior WhatsApp officials met the Election Commission and assured it that WhatsApp would look out for spam messaging techniques in the run-up to state polls scheduled for 2018-end.
Further, global search giant Google has also taken up the onus to address fake news in India. For this, the company has launched its Google News Initiative Training Network in India in partnership with BoomLive, DataLeads, and Internews.
Through this training, it wants to equip journalists with best-in-class skills required to debunk fake news.
Recently, reports surfaced that Twitter was partnering with law enforcement agencies and regulators to curb fake news and prevent trolling on the social networking site ahead of the upcoming 2019 Lok Sabha election.
Prior to this, Inc42 had reported that Facebook had announced to introduce a third-party fact-checking programme in India in partnership with BOOM.
Reportedly, as of March, there were more than 460 Mn Indian users of social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and WhatsApp.
At the same time, the ministry of home affairs (MHA) has issued a number of advisories on incidents of lynching by mobs fuelled by rumours of lifting/kidnapping of children and cybercrime prevention and control.
With government and private entities coming together to combat fake news and data protection concerns, one can only hope such tragic incidents as the rising cases of lynchings can be stopped in India.
[The development was reported by Livemint.]