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    Here’s why we’re worried about the social media monitoring agencies in Maharashtra and West Bengal

    Law enforcement agencies in parts of Maharashtra and West Bengal are setting up social media monitoring agencies to ‘combat the dissemination of fake news and anti-social content’ on such platforms.

    Pimpri-Chinchwad to get its own monitoring call:

    According to Pune Mirror, the Pimpri-Chinchwad district of Maharashtra will get a Social Media Monitoring Cell comprising Police Inspectors, Assistant Police Inspectors, Police Sub-Inspectors and other police personnel, operating under the guidance of the ACP. Sandeep Doifode, DCP (crime) told the newspaper, that the decision was made “in light of the Lok Sabha elections.” The cell will oversee online activities to prevent dissemination of false information and rumours, said Doifode, further asking individuals not to share, forward, or post misleading posts. He also asked people to refrain from using inciteful language related to caste and religion.

    WhatsApp group admin guidelines:

    The local police gave the following instructions to group admins:

    • Group admins are responsible for monitoring group activities regularly
    • Refrain from sharing any media that consists of rumours, or misinformation or has the potential to cause discord between communities.
    • Avoid posting unverified material in the group
    • Delete any inappropriate material found in the group
    • Derogatory content towards any society or religion, as well as pornographic material must not be circulated within the group.
    • Revoke the posting rights of members when the group spirals out of control
    • Immediately contact police authorities if offensive content is observed within the group

    How will group admins determine misinformation?

    While the local police may have clarified what content would constitute inciteful, their instructions regarding the removal of misinformation constitute a problem similar to that faced by the government’s Fact-Check Unit (FCU). The police have not specified what constitutes ‘fake news’ or ‘misinformation’ which means that unless there’s a fact-checking done by the government or news organisations, admins will be hard-pressed to carry out the guidelines. In the case of content related to policies, Navroz Seervai, legal counsel to satirist Kunal Kamra in the FCU hearing, pointed out that inferences, deductions, and conclusions drawn from information available in the public domain would be required to decide what counts as misleading.

    However, straightaway directing group admins to censor content could stifle free speech and have a chilling effect. Even social media intermediaries, despite their community policies and regulating mechanisms, have a hard time curbing harmful speech. How and why the local police in Maharashtra expect group admins to carry out this task successfully isn’t clear.

    West Bengal to use Artificial Intelligence to detect objectionable content

    While Pimpri-Chinchwad police have given directions to group admins, West Bengal police floated a tender to create an agency to monitor social media platforms using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to detect inciteful content. The agency will also monitor published and broadcasted news on any media, reported the Millennium Post. The agency will also identify impersonating accounts and hate speech in video footage and operate under the Cyber Cell headed by the Additional Director General H K Kusumakar.

    MediaNama has yet to read the tender calling for such a monitoring body. However, based on the information available so far, the AI-supported agency will also have a hard time discerning the vagueness of terms like ‘fake’ or ‘misleading.’ More interesting still is how the police plan to train the AI to detect such content. What content can be used to train an AI to catch a lie if a Fact-Check Unit is still considered unlikely to carry out the same?


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