New Delhi: ‘India likely to be nuked ’, ‘India and Russia to fight the United States’, ‘ India finally joined the war, killed 15,000 American soldiers’, ‘Ukraine war leads to Bharat Bandh’, ‘Declaring World War’.
These were some of the headlines that led to the blocking of 22 YouTube channels by the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting Monday. In a statement, the ministry revealed that 18 of the channels were based in India, while four were based in Pakistan — DuniyaMeryAagy (4,28,000 subscribers, 11,29,96,047 total views), Ghulam NabiMadni (37,90,109 total views), HAQEEQAT TV (40,90,000 subscribers, 1,46,84,10,797 total views), HAQEEQAT TV 2.0 (3,03,000 subscribers, 37,542,059 total views).
All the Indian channels that were blocked Monday were in Hindi. One sensational graphic even claimed India will be “destroyed by NATO”. Most of the graphics were war images containing photos of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Russian President Vladimir Putin, US President Joe Biden, and Pakistan PM Imran Khan.
Although the ministry has blocked YouTube channels before citing security concerns, what makes this instance different is that this is the first time it has blocked Indian YouTube channels.
Speaking to the media outside Parliament Tuesday, Information and Broadcasting Minister Anurag Thakur said: “This time we blocked Indian news channels. We have blocked 56 channels that were operating from Pakistan in the past and we won’t shy away from taking such decisions in the future as well.”
भारत के ख़िलाफ़ दुष्प्रचार, देश विरोधी एजेंडे को चलाना किसी भी स्थिति में स्वीकार्य नहीं है।
22 यूट्यूब चैनल जिनमें से 4 पाकिस्तान से संचालित थे समेत 3 ट्विटर अकाउंट, एक फेसबुक अकाउंट और एक न्यूज वेबसाइट को ब्लॉक करने का निर्णय देशहित में है।
राष्ट्र सर्वोपरि। pic.twitter.com/Og8C2yeGtw
— Anurag Thakur (@ianuragthakur) April 5, 2022
‘Rafales in Pakistani airspace, air attacks in Russia’
For instance, one graphic that carried Modi’s photo said ‘Indian Rafale planes enter Pakistani airspace, drop 750 bombs in 10 minutes’. Another one, also with a photo of Modi, read ‘India conducts air attacks in Russia; destroys several places’.
The cumulative viewership of these channels came close to 260 crore, according to the ministry’s statement. ARP news (4,40,68,652 total views) led the list with the highest number of fake news items, followed by KisanTak (36,54,327 total views).
“The blocked Indian YouTube channels were using templates and logos of certain TV news channels, including images of their news anchors, to mislead the viewers to believe that the news was authentic,” the statement read.
False thumbnails were used, the ministry stated, and the title and thumbnails were changed frequently to help make the content go viral.
Fake news monitoring is done either through the nodal officers within the ministry or through intelligence agencies.
An I&B ministry official who spoke to ThePrint on the condition of anonymity said it had asked YouTube to take down the channels Monday evening. The channels were blocked by Tuesday morning.
“Intelligence agencies monitor the national security aspect of news, but there needs to be a permanent solution,” said the official. “This action was taken within 10 hours. We are adapting quickly, but we also expect news organisations to self-regulate. There’s no guarantee that another account will not crop in some time. This could be an endless chase.”
(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)