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PIB’s Fact Check Unit

2024 MAR 23

Mains   > Polity   >   Institutions/Bodies   >   Government agencies


  • GS 2> Polity   >  Fundamental Rights/ Fake News 


  • Recently, the Supreme Court stayed the Centre’s notification designating the Press Information Bureau’s Fact-Checking Unit (FCU) as the fact-check unit of the Central Government under the amended Information Technology Rules of 2023.
  • This stay will remain until the Bombay High Court reaches a final decision regarding the challenge to Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Amendment Rules, 2023 (IT Rules 2023).


  • The amendment to the Information Technology (IT) Rules, 2021, which granted the Central government the authority to establish the Fact Check Unit (FCU), was made official in April 2023.
  • In January 2024, a challenge to these rules led to a split verdict from a two-judge bench of the Bombay High Court (HC). The challenges were centred on concerns of potential censorship, impacts on freedom of speech, and the Central Government's regulatory authority over online content.
  • A third judge, designated to provide a decisive opinion on this split verdict, has not yet delivered a final judgment. 
  • However, on March 11, 2024, the third judge declined to stay the setting up of the FCU — and on March 13, the division Bench said by a 2-1 majority that it would not stay the notification of the FCU.
  • The March 20,2024 notification designating the PIB’s Fact-Checking Unit (FCU) as the fact-check unit of the Central Government — which has now been stayed by the SC — was issued a day before the Supreme Court was to hear an appeal against the rejection by the Bombay High Court of a plea for an interim stay on the amended Rules.
  • The amendment to Rule 3(1)(b)(v) of the IT Rules, 2021, significantly widens the scope of "fake news" to include content related to government affairs. 
  • Initially, the rule targeted information that was "patently false or misleading in nature but may reasonably be perceived as a fact." With the 2023 amendment, this was expanded to cover any government-related content deemed false or misleading by a designated government fact-check unit, as announced in the Official Gazette. 
  • This change prompts serious constitutional and legal concerns, touching upon Articles 14, 19(1)(a) and (g), and 21 of the Constitution, and Section 79 of the IT Act. It raises questions about censorship, freedom of expression, press freedom, and the potential for governmental overreach in regulating public discourse.


In November 2019, the Press Information Bureau (PIB) launched a Fact Check Unit (FCU) to counter fake news about the Government of India, its departments, ministries, public sector units, and other central organizations. The FCU's mission is to verify claims about government actions and announcements, using a detailed fact-checking process to correct misinformation and provide the public with accurate information.

  • Organization:
  • The FCU is led by a senior officer from the Indian Information Service (IIS) and consists of IIS officers managing its daily operations. It operates under the Principal Director General of PIB, the Government of India's main spokesperson.
  • Fact-Check Mechanism:
  • Public inquiries are received via WhatsApp, email, or a web portal and categorized based on their relevance to the Government of India. The FCU then thoroughly investigates each relevant query using government sources, technology, and verification from official bodies. Findings are shared on social media if deemed beneficial for public awareness. Fact-checked content falls into three categories: 
    • Fake - Incorrect information about the Government of India meant to deceive or manipulate, whether spread intentionally or not.
    • Misleading - Information that is partially true or distorted to mislead the recipient.
    • True - Information verified as factually correct.

Recent government notification(March 20, 2024):

  • The notification issued by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology recently formalized the Fact Check Unit (FCU)'s authority, providing it with legal backing and the power to enforce its findings. 
  • This legislation also places a mandatory requirement on online platforms like Facebook and Twitter to remove content identified as "fake" by the FCU. Failing to do so risks losing their "safe harbour" status, which shields them from liability for third-party content.


  • Combating Misinformation: At its core, the Fact-Check Unit aims to mitigate the proliferation of misinformation and fake news. This initiative is crucial for protecting public discourse from the harmful impacts of false information, which can distort public perception and decision-making.
  • Protection of Democratic Values:  The unit is positioned to protect democratic values by preventing the spread of false information that could mislead the public, affect public opinion, or disrupt the democratic process.
  • Strengthening Social Media Accountability: With the PIB’s Fact-Check Unit recognized as the government's official fact-checking arm, there's an increased onus on social media platforms to adhere to higher standards of content accuracy. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter are now more compelled to identify and eliminate misleading content, enhancing their role in safeguarding information integrity.
  • Bolstering Cyber security Measures: By identifying and countering misleading content, the Fact-Check Unit also contributes to cyber security efforts. It plays a part in curbing the distribution of harmful digital content, such as deep fakes, which can have serious implications for individual privacy, security, and the democratic process.
  • Curbing Hate Speech and Potential Violence: The unit is instrumental in upholding compliance with India's IT Act and national security legislations. This effort is vital in preventing digital platforms from becoming arenas for hate speech and violence, ensuring a safer online environment conducive to respectful and lawful discourse.


  • Potential for Censorship and Control over Information:
    • The amendment to Rule 3(1)(b)(v), broadening "fake news" to cover government matters, could lead to censorship and control of narratives under the guise of fighting misinformation.
    • This threatens speech and expression freedoms under Article 19(1)(a) and challenges Article 14 by potentially allowing selective enforcement against dissenting voices, undermining the principle of equality before the law.Top of Form
  • Impacts on Press Freedom:
    • The PIB Fact-Check Unit's action against an Al Jazeera article criticizing the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, as "fake news" exemplifies the risks to press freedom. Such instances demonstrate the threat posed by government-controlled entities to the independence of journalism and the critical reporting of government policies, directly impacting the core of press freedom protected under Article 19(1)(a).
  • 3Ambiguity and Subjectivity in Determining "Fake News":
    • The amendment introduces subjectivity into what can be labeled as "fake news," particularly concerning government affairs, without clear criteria or oversight. This discretion could lead to decisions that are arbitrary or politically motivated, complicating adherence to Article 14's principle of non-arbitrariness.
  • Chilling Effect on Freedom of Expression:
    • The amended rules may cause individuals and entities to self-censor, especially when discussing government business, for fear of being labelled as disseminators of "fake news." This self-censorship undermines the essence of freedom of expression, a fundamental right under Article 19(1)(a).
  • Impartiality of the Fact-Check Unit:
    • Given its role as a government-appointed body, the Fact-Check Unit's impartiality and potential for bias in determining misinformation related to government actions pose a significant concern. This situation challenges the protection against state overreach, integral to Article 21's guarantee of personal liberty and dignity.
  • Impact on Social Media Platforms and Online Content:
    • Under the amended rules, social media platforms face legal liabilities for failing to remove content flagged as misinformation by the Fact-Check Unit, as per Section 79 of the IT Act. This requirement might lead to over-censorship, affecting these platforms' roles as spaces for free discourse and impacting the rights protected under Articles 19(1)(a) and (g).
Section 79 of the Information Technology Act, 2000, establishes a "safe harbor" for online intermediaries, protecting them from liability for third-party content, subject to compliance with due diligence and government guidelines.


  • Enhance Transparency and Accountability:
    • Create publicly accessible guidelines for content evaluation and decision-making.
    • Implement a transparent appeal process for disputed decisions.
  • Ensure Impartiality and Independence:
    • Involve an independent oversight body with diverse members.
    • Publish regular reports on Fact-Check Unit activities and decisions.
  • Foster Collaboration with Stakeholders:
    • Partner with social media, news organizations, and academia for best practices in fact-checking.
    • Develop public education initiatives on misinformation and media literacy.
  • Strengthen Legal and Ethical Frameworks:
    • Align the legal framework with international freedom of expression and digital rights standards.
    • Incorporate ethical considerations to avoid suppressing legitimate discourse.
  • Support Press Freedom and Freedom of Expression:
    • Uphold press freedom and freedom of expression as core values.
    • Focus on collaborative truth-seeking, avoiding punitive actions against dissent.
  • Address Misinformation Holistically:
    • Recognize fact-checking as one of many tools against misinformation.
    • Invest in education, critical thinking, quality journalism, and technological solutions to limit misinformation's spread.


  • The effectiveness and significance of the Fact-Check Unit also hinge on public trust in its impartiality and accuracy.  Its ability to establish itself as a credible and unbiased source of fact-checking will be crucial for its long-term impact on information integrity in India.

Practice question:

Q. Explain why the establishment of a Fact-Check Unit by the Central Government is essential for various reasons in today’s information landscape. Also discuss the concerns associated with it.(15 marks, 250 words)