While companies claim to have taken steps including adding additional manpower, using artificial intelligence and machine learning, to counter spread of fake news, the government has found these measures unsatisfactory.
Illustration: Dominic Xavier/Rediff.com
The blow-hot-blow-cold relationship between the government and social media and technology-backed firms seems to have taken a turn for the worse.
Some companies now fear exits of their India heads and senior management if the government goes ahead with its plans to carry out criminal proceedings against top bosses over spread of fake news via their platforms.
Apart from global technology giants Google and Facebook (which together have four to five social media platforms), Twitter, LinkedIn, smaller social media portals and payments apps with chat capabilities are planning to approach the government on putting back its plans of booking their top bosses.
While it has not been decided if they would form a common front, the public policy teams in these firms are getting ready for a long discussion with the government.
“We are constantly in touch with government officials. We want them to know that we are taking steps to prevent spreading of fake news and such drastic actions are unnecessary,” said a senior public policy executive at one of the tech firms.
Apart from the bigger social media firms, the government is planning to take similar actions against platforms which have chat as a feature on the portal.
“There are payment wallets which have chat as a feature, games and other social media platforms where users can connect with each other and exchange information, if this happens then they would all be at risk of getting punished,” added the executive.
At present, Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter and some other firms do not have heads in India, and the government as well as the judiciary have been at loggerheads with these companies on the issue.
If the government starts prosecuting the executives, they fear they may not be able to fill these positions.
An inter-ministerial committee has given a list of recommendations which include prosecuting the top bosses themselves, as they believe that everyone responsible, starting from the ones spreading misinformation to the platform via which it gets spread, should be held accountable.
The government has over that last one year warned social media giants such as Facebook and Google that they should take concrete steps to prevent the spread of fake news, that has led to a series of lynchings, as well as riots all over the country.
While companies claim to have taken steps including adding additional manpower, using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), the government has found these measures unsatisfactory.
“If the government starts such a crackdown then it would be impossible for us to retain our top executives. We are taking all possible steps to prevent the spread of fake news.
"The initiatives would only increase, but if the government literally starts shooting the messenger every time incidents of fake news happen, then for us functioning in the country would become extremely difficult,” said a top executive of a US-based technology firm.
According to sources in the information technology ministry, the government also wants all social media firms to have a team and office setup in India.