Thursday, May 26, 2022

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Fake News Factories: Ministry of I&B dismantles & blocks Pakistani coordinated disinformation operation

Taking stringent steps in bursting fake news on the Internet, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has ordered the blocking of 35 channels on online video-sharing platform YouTube and 2 websites. These websites were engaged in spreading anti-India propaganda and fake news on the Internet in a coordinated manner through digital media.

It is pertinent to mention that the YouTube accounts blocked by the Ministry had a total subscriber base of over 1 crore 20 lakh, and their videos had over 130 crore views. Apart from this, the social presence extended to Twitter, Instagram and Facebook as well, wherein, two Twitter accounts, two Instagram accounts, and one Facebook account have also been blocked by the Government for being involved in spreading coordinated anti-India disinformation over the internet.

The Ministry of Information & Broadcasting via five separate orders – issued under rule 16 of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, has ordered to block these Pakistan based social media accounts and websites. Indian Intelligence agencies were closely monitoring these social media accounts and websites and flagged them to the Ministry for immediate action.

This is not the first time that India has struck hard on Pakistani Fake News factories, but rather, in a month, this is the second such operation conducted by the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting. Earlier, on 21st December 2021, the government took action by blocking 20 YouTube channels and 2 websites. It is worth highlighting, at that time, the emergency powers under the IT Rules, 2021 were first utilized to act against such anti-India fake news networks.

While addressing the press conference, Information & Broadcasting (I&B) Secretary Apurva Chandra stated, “We have used the provision of section 69A of the IT Act to block these channels under the emergency provisions as their contents were totally toxic, like the government is responsible for Bipin Rawat’s death, Bipin Rawat’s daughter is accepting Islam, North Korean army is going to Kashmir etc. What sort of nonsense is this!”

In addition, the secretary, Apurva Chandra also states that our intelligence agencies are now alive to the situation and more such news channels on YouTube will get blocked. Further, he confirms that the content is been originated from Pakistan, as earlier in December, the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting in collaboration with Intelligence Agencies busted and blocked 20 YouTube channels and 2 websites.

The secretary I&B Ministry extends the message to the citizens of India that even though the Ministry and the Intelligence Agencies are working in busting the fake news network, it is also the responsibility of the citizens of this country to bring such toxic content to the forefront in order to deal better and faster.

Fake News Alert: The Nature of Content:

The purpose of the YouTube channels, websites and other social media accounts that were blocked by the Ministry, was solely aimed at spreading anti-India fake news. This news involved sensitive subjects related to India and the topics includes, the Indian Army, Jammu and Kashmir, and India’s foreign relations with other countries. The channels were used to post divisive content or content blasphemous in nature to spread anti-India propaganda.

According to the official press release of the I&B Ministry, it was observed that rampant fake news was spread through the YouTube channels regarding the demise of the former Chief of Defence Staff Late General Bipin Rawat. These YouTube channels had also started posting content that undermined the democratic process of the upcoming elections in five states. Propaganda content was also observed on these social media, on the lines of separatism, dividing India into the lines of religion, and creating animosity among the various sections of the Indian society. Such information was feared to have the potential to incite the audience into the commission of crimes adversely affecting public order in the country.

Modus Operandi: Coordinated Disinformation Networks

In order to secure the overall information environment in India, the modus operandi of the anti-India disinformation campaign involved four coordinated disinformation networks. These include the Apni Duniya Network operating 14 YouTube channels, and Talha Films Network operating 13 YouTube channels. A set of four channels and a set of two other channels were also found to be acting in synchronization with each other.

All these networks appeared to be operated with a single goal of spreading fake news-oriented towards the Indian audience. The channels which were part of a network used common hashtags and editing styles were being operated by common persons and cross-promoted each other’s content. Some of the YouTube channels were being operated by anchors of Pakistani TV news channels.

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