Govt Asks Social Media Platforms to Remove Posts Calling B.1.617 the “Indian” Covid19 Variant
The Indian government asked social media platforms to remove all content referring to the Covid19 variant B.1.617 as the “Indian” variant. Citing World Health Organization (WHO) Guidelines, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology stated last Friday that there is no link between the country and the variant.
The concern behind linking virus names to their country of origin comes after several instances of discrimination against East Asians as a result of many global politicians, including Donald Trump, referring to the novel coronavirus as the “China Virus.” Taking these concerns into consideration, the WHO is working on a new system to name Covid19 variants with common names.
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Notably, the government request is an advisory and not an order, as the government has no legal basis to direct social media platforms to remove this content under either Section 69A of the Information Technology Act or the 2009 Blocking Rules, according to Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF), an Indian digital liberties organization.
Previously, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare also issued a press release calling news reports using the term “Indian variant” baseless and unfounded. “This is to clarify that WHO has not associated the term “Indian Variant” with the B.1.617 variant of the coronavirus in its 32-page document. In fact, the word “Indian” has not been used in its report on the matter.”
However, this press release comes exactly a week after a Ministry of Health and Welfare referred to virus variants via their country names in an internal briefing. The Hindu’s Deputy Science Editor Jacob Koshy tweeted a screenshot of the briefing, which called variant B.1.1.7 the U.K variant, P.1. the Brazilian variant, and B.1.351 the South African variant. This reveals a double standard in the government’s request to prevent slander against India while using similar inappropriate terminology itself.