India’s IT ministry has formally asked social media companies to remove content on their respective platforms that mention the phrase ‘Indian variant’ about a strain of the COVID-19 virus. The move has been enacted to reduce the spread of misinformation and avoid a sense of panic among citizens within the country and international communities.

As per a PTI report, the Information Technology Ministry wrote to all social media platforms last Friday stating that since the World Health Organisation (WHO) has refrained from using the phrase ‘Indian Variant’ to be associated with the deadly B.1.617.1 variant of the coronavirus in any of its reports, it should become a more widely norm across platforms.

A notice issued by the IT Ministry states that a “false statement” is doing its rounds on the internet that directly implies that an ‘Indian variant’ of the virus has spread across the countries. The B.1.617.1 strain of the virus was detected first in the country back in 2020 and somehow, the phrase ‘Indian variant’ has remained associated with the strain ever since.

The IT Ministry also states that the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare had issued a press statement clarifying the same and that social media platforms should adhere to it too.

Social media platforms have been told to “remove all the content that names, refers to, or implies ‘Indian variant’ of coronavirus from your platform immediately”.

It is worth noting that the ministry chooses not to cite powers conferred to it under the Information Technology Act for the enforcement of the notice. In fact, it doesn’t even mention a deadline for compliance. The notice simply refers to earlier advisories “regarding curbing of false news/misinformation concerning coronavirus on social media platforms.”

India happens to be among the largest markets for all popular social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Social media companies are yet to issue a response to the IT Ministry but a social media executive speaking to Reuters on the matter states that it would be a very difficult task to remove all references to the phrase “Indian variant.”

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