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India is officially discussing heatedly with Google, Twitter, and Facebook for not actively removing what they described as “fake news” on their respective platforms.

The officials, from India’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B), strongly criticized the companies and said that their inaction on fake news was driving the Indian government to order content takedowns, which in turn drew international criticism that authorities were suppressing freedom of expression, two sources said.

The sources, describe that the conversation was tense and heated, signaling deficiency in ties between American tech giants and the ruling BJP of Prime minister Narendra Modi.

As per the sources, the officials did not issue any term to the companies at the meeting. The government has been trying to tighten the tech sector regulations but wants companies to improvise on content moderation.

The meeting was a follow-up to I&B’s use of “emergency powers” in December and January to order the blocking of 55 YouTube channels, and some Twitter and Facebook account too.

As per the government, the channels were promoting “fake news” or “anti-India” content, and the disinformation was being spread by accounts based in neighboring Pakistan.

Twitter In its transparency reports has said the Indian government makes some of the most requests to remove content from the platform. Technology website Comparitech said in October that India made 97,631 content removal requests in 2020, this is the second-highest in the world after Russia, mostly to Facebook and Google.

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Senior tech executives told the officials during the meeting that they take adequate measures to remove or curb the spread of misinformation on their platforms and act on legally valid content removal requests, as per the sources.

The officials told Google to review its internal guidelines in order to remove fake content automatically, the sources added.

The officials also added that the government was disappointed that big social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, were not detecting and removing such content on their own.

Executives from Google suggested to I&B officials that one way to resolve these issues is to avoid making takedown decisions public. The companies could work with the government and act on the alleged “fake content,” which could be a win-win situation for both sides, Google said, according to one of the sources.

One person said that this idea was instantly rejected by the government officials, who said that takedowns also publicize how the companies are not doing enough to tackle the fake news issues on their own.

While ordering takedowns of some online accounts in January, the government said it was doing so to “secure the overall information environment in India”, adding that such fake content would address “sensitive subjects” related to the Indian Army, its foreign relations, and its local state elections.

Digital rights advocates advocate that such government orders curb free speech and set a worrying yardstick.

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