Curbing the menace of Fake News
● The World Health Organization (WHO) recently stated that world governments are fighting a battle on two fronts, Covid-19 and the large influx of misinformation regarding the pandemic which have been called ‘infodemics’ by some. This flow of information provides an opportunity for misinformation and false news to spread quickly.
● In March 2020, the Supreme Court of India in Alakh Alok Srivastava v. Union of India recognized the problem of infodemics in India and passed an order asking the state governments to comply with the directions issued by the Centre to curb the menace of fake news
Fake news is a threat to democracy. Discuss. Describe the mechanism to curb the Fake News.
About Fake News:
● Fake news is news, stories or hoaxes created to deliberately misinform or deceive readers. Fake news, defined by the New York Times as “a made-up story with an intention to deceive”.
● Usually, these stories are created to influence people’s views, push a political agenda or cause confusion and can often be a profitable business for online publishers.
Cause of Concern:
● Abuse of social media: social media and messaging services, which are essentially meant to share information and to facilitate virtual communities interaction are increasingly being abused to incite communal riots and spread false information.
● Bogus accounts are used to promote casteism and communalism which endangers fraternity and unity of the country. It also creates fear and divides societies and communities.
● Fake news has a very potent power of disturbing the peace. The manipulation of public opinion over social media platforms has emerged as a critical threat to public life.
● Regulationof fake news can transgress the right of free speech and expression.
Reason for the increase in fake News:
● Social media
➢ Social media can amplify a message through endorsements and forwards to reach a wider potential audience.
➢ Anyone can publish information on social media without checking the information quality or its truthfulness. Traditional news has editorial controls before publication ensuring quality assurance.
➢ Monitoring falsified information due to security features like end-to-end encryption is difficult.
➢ Fake IDs, pseudonyms and multiple accounts on social media are often used to spread fake news.
● Political parties: political parties use fake social media accounts for self-promotion and image building and to tarnish the image of opponents and contesting candidates, especially during the elections. This also runs the risk of inciting religious or communal riots, hoaxes and rumours.
● Confirmation Bias: Studies have confirmed that people don’t care about finding the ‘truth’ behind a news item and instead look for evidence to support their preferred narrative.
● Linguistic issue: The fake news proliferation is in all possible languages and formats. On the other hand, Artificial intelligence tools developed have predominantly been able to tackle the issue in English only.
● Probable conflict of interest by Social media companies in regulating content that generates them their highest audience and/or engagement on the platform.
● India does not have any dedicated legislation to regulate fake news and lack accountability of social media and digital platforms.
The legal framework to regulate fake news:
● Information Technology Act, 2008 (IT Act): In India, social media platforms, identified under Section 2(w) of the Information Technology Act, 2008 as ‘intermediaries’ under Section 79(2)(c) are expected to follow due diligence while carrying out their duties.
● Disaster Management Act, 2005 (DMA): Section 54 of the DMA purports to deal with ‘false alarm or warning as to disaster or its severity or magnitude, leading to panic’.
● Indian Penal Code (IPC): Section 505(1)(b) of the IPC deals with the spreading of false and mischievous content that results in fear or alarm to the public, or to any section of the public whereby any person may be induced to commit an offence against the State or public tranquillity.
● IPC Sections 153 (incite rioting) and 295 (insulting religion) can be invoked to guard against fake news. Seen from the prism of Sections 153 and 295, action can be initiated against someone creating or spreading fake news if it can be termed as hate speech.
● The Press Council of India, created by an Act of Parliament, is a statutory body. According to the Press Council Act, 1978, it can warn, admonish or censure the newspaper, the news agency, the editor or the journalist or disapprove the conduct of the editor or the journalist if it finds that a newspaper or a news agency has offended against the standards of journalistic ethics or public taste or that an editor or a working journalist has committed any professional misconduct.
Steps taken to curb fake news:
● Recently the Central Government has framed Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 in the exercise of powers under section 87 (2) of the Information Technology Act, 2000.
● Proposed Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019 along the lines on recommendations of Justice Srikrishna Committee
● Educating the end-users about verification tools so that they can ascertain the accuracy of a news item before sharing it.
● The Press Information Bureau has developed a fact check mechanism for distorted information relating to government policies.
● Citizen led interventions and volunteers led groups are best suited to cure the menace of fake news.
● Social media websites should be made accountable for such activities so that it becomes their responsibility to have better control over the spread of fake news.
● The phenomenon of fake news has wider implications for law and order, the safety and security of the citizens, and the democratic credentials of the country. Fake news is a threat to democracy and should be regulated within the reasonable restrictions of freedom of speech and expression.
● Use of Technology with Big Data analytics, Machine learning and Artificial intelligence can be deployed to fight fake news more effectively.