NEW DELHI: The titles of recently blocked Youtube channels --Loktantra TV, U&V TV, AM Razvi, Gouravshali Pawan Mithilanchal, SeeTop5TH, Sarkari Update, and Sab Kuch Dekho -- may appear innocuous but were working for nefarious purposes; spreading misinformation related to India’s national security, foreign relations and posing threat to public order in the country.
The ministry of information and broadcasting (I&B), utilising the emergency powers under the IT Rules, 2021, issued orders to block them along with three other channels including a digital channel-- News ki Dunya—being operated from Pakistan. The order was issued on Tuesday. The action was taken after specific inputs from intelligence agencies.
The ministry officials said the blocked channels had a cumulative viewership of over 114 crore and over 85 lakh subscribers. The Facebook page of ‘Loktantra TV’ has also been restricted for viewing in India along with two posts on the social media platform, informed the ministry on Thursday.
The blocked channels are accused of creating fake news about the Centre ordering demolition of religious structures, banning the celebration of religious festivals and ‘declaration of religious war in India’.
“The purpose of the content published by some of these YouTube channels was to spread hatred among religious communities in India. False claims were made in various videos by the blocked YouTube channels. Such content was found to have the potential to create communal disharmony and disturb public order in the country,” said the ministry officials.
These YouTube channels were used to post fake news about the Indian Armed Forces and Jammu & Kashmir.
“The content was observed to be completely false and sensitive from the perspective of national security and India’s friendly relations with foreign States…the content blocked by the ministry was found to be detrimental to sovereignty and integrity of India, security of the State, India’s friendly relations with foreign States, and public order in the country. Accordingly, the content was covered within the ambit of section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000,” the ministry said.
The ministry officials added that fake news content was being monetised by the blocked channels on YouTube.
On the modus operandi of the blocked Youtube channels, the ministry said that they were using fake ‘sensational thumbnails’, images of news anchors and logos of certain TV news channels to mislead the viewers creating an impression of being genuine.
“All the YouTube channels blocked by the ministry were displaying advertisements on their videos having false content detrimental to communal harmony, public order and India’s foreign relations,” added the ministry officials.
The crackdown on digital channels, portals, and social media handles running an anti-India agenda and spreading fake news began in December when the ministry issued directions for blocking 20 YouTube Channels and two websites, operating from Pakistan under the provisions of IT rules for the first time.
Since December 2021, directions for blocking 102 YouTube news channels and several other social media accounts have been issued.
“The Government of India remains committed towards ensuring an authentic, trustworthy, and safe online news media environment, and thwarting any attempts at undermining India’s sovereignty and integrity, national security, foreign relations, and public order,” said a statement issued by the ministry on Thursday.
Information and Broadcasting minister Anurag Thakur, during the recently concluded Parliament session, informed that the Government had blocked 747 uniform resource locators (URLs) during 2021-22 for spreading fake news besides YouTube channels.
Thakur said that in order to check the spread of Covid-19-related fake news, a dedicated cell of the fact-checking unit of the Press Information Bureau (PIB) was created on March 31, 2020, to which people can refer information related to Covid for verification.
The unit has responded to 34,125 actionable queries, including queries related to Covid-19, Thakur said, adding that the PIB has also busted fake news and 875 posts thereof on its social media platforms.
Since then, the ministry has been blocking digital media channels in a phased manner.