The India heads of global internet and social media giants should face criminal proceedings in case their platforms are used to spread fake news and other ‘sinister’ campaigns that lead to lynching and riots, a top government committee is understood to have recommended. 

The inter-ministerial committee, headed by home secretary Rajiv Gauba, has submitted its report to home minister Rajnath Singh, who heads a group of ministers (GoM) looking into cases of lynching across various states, and the role of fake news and internet platforms in the episodes. 

According to sources close to the group, members were of the view that all possible steps need to be initiated to ensure that social media platforms do not become a means for spreading rumours and messages that lead to social disharmony. 

“However, these are only recommendations at this point. A final view will be taken by the GoM, which will then submit its report to Prime Minister Narendra Modi,” a source said. 

The committee, which held consultations with a cross-section of stakeholders before submitting its report, feels that social media companies and ubiquitous instant messengers such as WhatsApp need to take responsibility for not tracing, and thereafter blocking, malicious content that has the potential to lead to rumour-mongering and incidents of lynching and rioting. 

The committee has also sought the appointment of the superintendent of police (SP) in each district as the nodal officer to deal with cases of lynching, while suggesting that criminal action be initiated collectively against the group/mob engaging in lynching. 

Tech cos fail to walk the talk on fake news
The inter-ministerial committee’s recommendations on curbing fake news and preventing lynchings come just weeks after the Justice B N Srikrishna panel on data protection said in a draft bill that directors and managers of social media and internet companies may be “jailed for up to five years and face criminal proceedings” if they are found to have engaged — knowingly or ‘recklessly’ — in cases of data theft and illegal processing of ‘sensitive personal’ information. 

Companies such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Google and Twitter have time and again assured the government they would keep a vigil on such activities, but have not come out with any specific measures. 

The tabling of the report comes just when the government has taken a stern view on WhatsApp’s refusal to trace the origins of the “sinister campaigns” that have led to incidents of lynching. 

Law and IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, who is also part of the GoM on lynching, has already made it clear that there could be charges of “abetment” against WhatsApp if the company continues to say no to tracing the people who are behind the viral and fake messaging. 

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