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This article is written by Vanya Verma, from Alliance University, Bengaluru. This article talks about how social media acts as a platform in spreading misinformation and what are the Indian laws to curb the same.


With the rise of smartphone use and low-cost internet access, the amount of false news stories being created and circulated has increased at an alarming rate during Covid-19. Fake news reports are constantly flooding social media sites. People who make fake news pretend to be doctors, statisticians, and specialists, while those who spread it are contributing to society’s worsening situation.  

In India, the problem of “fake news” and misinformation appears to be the major issues. Over the years, false news has become a major problem in India, posing a threat to both the government and civil society and causing unrest and tension, and in some cases, murder. Those who use cell phones the most are more likely to spread fake news, and the same set of people oppose establishing a national framework or forming a national regulatory body to combat the spread of fake news in India.

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In India’s legal system, there is no explicit provision dealing with fake news. However, the Indian Penal Code contains various charges that penalize certain types of speech that could be related to fake news and could apply to the internet or social media content. WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are just a few of the major social media sites used daily by an estimated 200 million people in the United States.

The preamble of the Constitution of India mentions freedom of expression, and the right is guaranteed in Article 19(1), which stipulates that “all citizens will have the right to freedom of speech and expression.” This freedom is subject to “reasonable restrictions” “in the interests of India’s sovereignty and integrity, the State’s security, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in connection to contempt of court, defamation, or incitement to an offence.”


Smartphones have become an inextricable part of most people’s lives. Age, gender, education, occupation, and geography all have an impact on how people use the internet.  Usage of smartphones and gender of the user was found to be incompatible. The survey discovered that youths under the age of 20 are most likely to use smartphones. However, the average smartphone usage in males is slightly higher than that of females, according to the survey. It should be noted that smartphone usage is higher on average among those with a Plus-2 educational qualification. Smartphone usage was also influenced by the users’ location. According to the findings, those who live in urban areas use smartphones the most, while those who live in rural areas use cell phones the least. Smartphones are most commonly used by employed persons or those with a regular income, and they are least commonly used by homemakers.

The group of people aged 34 and above think that controlling social media platforms in India is the best way to prevent the spread of fake news. The young block, social media users under the age of 20, on the other hand, are quite critical of the same. It’s also worth noting that the majority of women say it’s time to take charge of India’s social media platforms. As a result, even while users over the age of 34 and female users are the most likely to propagate fake news on social media, these same groups advocate for the implementation of particular social media platform controls. While those with a class 10 or lower education vote in favour of enacting control measures, city dwellers are the most convinced of the same.

Recent examples of the spread of fake news amidst COVID-19

Numerous posts on social media sites such as WhatsApp, Facebook are inaccurate, ranging from information regarding the coronavirus to false information regarding its source and spread, as well as the cure. An incident of fake news was the infamous Bois locker room case, in which screenshots of offensive comments about ladies went viral and sparked outrage on social media. It was later discovered that a girl had created a false Snapchat account in a boy’s name.

In April, hundreds of migrant workers congregated outside the Bandra station in Mumbai, in defiance of lockdown orders and social distancing recommendations, resulting in a riot-like scene and the filing of FIRs against over 800 migrant workers.

Another fraudulent material has circulated as well, including faked official notifications, misleading information on reported instances, owners leaving dogs in fear of getting the virus, and numerous stories on ‘alleged’ remedies for the infection, ranging from cow pee to alcohol.

Measures taken by the government to combat fake news

In March, the central government encouraged social media companies to implement awareness campaigns on their platforms to combat the dissemination of fake news concerning the pandemic. Even the Supreme Court has issued an order requiring media outlets to be accountable and the only broadcast verified news (while refusing to interfere with the right to free discussion on the pandemic).

Interestingly, laws such as the Epidemics and Diseases Act, 1897 and the Disaster Management Act, 2005 offers the state apparatus broad powers, with the former (combined with the Indian Penal Code) allowing for up to six months in prison and the latter allowing for up to three years in prison for failing to follow the authorities’ directives.

Furthermore, the Maharashtra government has made “dissemination of any information regarding Covid-19 without ascertaining the facts and prior clearance (of the Commissioner, Health Services)” a penal offence in the Maharashtra Covid-19 Regulations, 2020, enacted under the Epidemics and Diseases Act.

Since the country has been under lockdown, over 600 cases have been filed against individuals for allegedly spreading fake news as a result of the intermingling of social media universities and the broad scope of official powers. It has been claimed that some of the arrests were done solely to suppress the governments’ criticisms. India has previously been accused of enacting overly strict anti-fake news legislation.

To that aim, each state government may consider issuing guidelines (under any of the laws enabling such state / municipal authorities), which would include provisions such as:

  • information that would qualify as “fake news” – the scope of which should be limited to inaccurate factual information about Covid-19;
  • sufficient grounds for determining the source of bogus news before taking any punitive action; and
  • Various groups of offenders will face different punishments (for example, a source propagating fake news will face a harsher penalty than someone who relies on fake news from a well-known source).

According to Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, who announced the new social media standards on Thursday, social media platforms would be compelled to reveal the first originator of malicious content. According to him, major social media intermediaries must have a chief compliance officer and a nodal contact officer based in India to handle user grievances.

The government proposed new guidelines, Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code in February 2020 to combat the misuse of social media platforms, requiring companies to establish a grievance officer, disclose the first source of the malicious material, and erase materials portraying nudity or modified images of women within 24 hours.

According to the new guidelines, social media intermediaries must hire a grievance officer who must file complaints within 24 hours. The grievance redressal authority must be based in India, and social media platforms will be required to file monthly compliance reports.

With the new restrictions, India joins a growing number of countries across the world that are attempting to regulate social media networks. Twitter recently had a disagreement with the Indian government over content takedown requests. The government had urged Twitter to take down roughly 1,100 accounts and messages for allegedly spreading false information about farmer protests over new agricultural legislation.

In response, Twitter claimed it had withheld some of the accounts marked by the Indian government for restriction “inside India only,” but that it had not barred the handles of civil society activists, lawmakers, or the media because doing so would “abuse their basic right to free expression” granted by Indian law. The government expressed its severe disappointment by saying it expects Twitter to completely comply with its regulations, which are obligatory on any commercial organization.

Legislations dealing with misinformation in India

Indian Penal Code, 1860

  • Section 124A deals with punishment for any sort of speech that is directed against the government as an act of sedition.
  • Section 153A punishes the offences that promote animosity between different groups based on religion, race, place of birth, residency, language, and other factors, as well as activities that are detrimental to the maintenance of peace.
  • Section 153B safeguards the interests of “class of persons” and “national integration” by providing punishment against imputations and assertions prejudicial to national integration.
  • Section 295A deals with actions that are designed to offend the religious sensibilities of any group by denigrating their religion or religious beliefs.
  • Section 500 deals with the punishment for defamation when the information is intended to harm a person’s reputation.
  • Section 505 deals with the dissemination of false and deceptive information with the intent of disrupting public tranquillity.

The Information Technology Act, 2000

Section 66 D of the IT Act– Provides punishment to whoever using any communication device or computer resource commits the offence of cheating by personation. Punishment includes imprisonment for a term extending up to three years and a fine extending up to one lakh rupees.

Section 69A– It empowers the Central Government to issue directions to block content on certain grounds, which also includes preventing incitement for the commission of a cognizable offence.  Procedures and safeguards to which the government must adhere when doing so are outlined in the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking for Access of Information by Public) Rules, 2009 (known as the Blocking Rules).

Section 79– It provides intermediaries with limited immunity for any illegal materials posted by third parties.

The Disaster Management Act, 2005

Section 54 of the Act– Provides punishment to whoever issues or distributes a false warning or alarm about a crisis, its severity, or magnitude, causing panic. Punishment includes imprisonment which may extend to one year or with a fine.

Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973

Section 144– In India, internet shutdowns are typically pursued under section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, which is “usually invoked to prevent riots, enforce the curfew, and enforce law and order in a communally heated environment, where there could be a danger to the physical safety of a group of people based on their religious, caste, linguistic, or ethnic identity.” According to the Section, magistrates explicitly empowered by the state government may direct any individual to abstain from certain acts or take certain orders affecting the property in their custody or administration by written order. 

The Indian Telegraph Act, 1885

Section 5 of the Act This section discusses the government’s authority to “take custody of licensed telegraphs and order message interception.” The section has also been used “multiple times to order temporary Internet service disruptions,” according to the Software Freedom Law Center, and it is used to “prevent the transmission of any telegraphic message or class of messages during a public emergency or in the interest of public safety” if it is necessary or expedient for the sake of India’s sovereignty or integrity, or the security of the country. 

The Press Council Act, 1978

If it is found that a newspaper or news agency has violated the rules of journalistic ethics or public taste, or that an editor or a working journalist has committed any professional misconduct, then this Act can issue a warning, admonition, or reprimand the newspaper, news agency, editor, or journalist, or disapprove the conduct of the editor or journalist.

The Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017

The Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017, were enacted under the India Telegraph Act, 1885, to govern the temporary suspension of telecom services in the event of a public emergency or for the sake of public safety.

Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade

The Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade of the Indian government released a draft National E-commerce Policy, 2019, stating that online platforms have a “responsibility and obligation to check the genuineness of any material submitted on their websites.”

Press Information Bureau of India

On April 2, 2018, the Press Information Bureau of India updated the Guidelines for Accreditation of Journalists to call for the suspension of a journalist’s accreditation for creating or promoting fake news, citing “growing instances of false news in multiple mediums including print and electronic media.”

Measures taken by social media platforms

Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, and Google, among other social media and messaging platforms, have reportedly focused on bringing transparency to aspects of political content, verifying political advertisers, providing transparency in expenditure on political advertisements, more rigorously monitoring content on their platforms, responding to government requests, including from the Election Commission of India [ECI], and raising awareness about political content.

In  February 2019, Facebook said that political adverts will have disclaimer labels “offering facts on individuals responsible for running the ad as the social media giant attempts to introduce transparency into political marketing ahead of elections in India.” For the elections, Facebook has also been banning false accounts and collaborating with third-party fact-checkers.

Whatsapp has implemented a variety of precautions, including limiting “the number of times a user can forward a message to five.” It now also classifies communications that have been forwarded.” The restrictions were purportedly implemented in July of 2018. WhatsApp has also “launched a fact-checking hotline” that encourages users to flag messages for verification. It also began recirculating an old commercial imploring people to “spread pleasure, not rumours.”

Twitter created a service in the run-up to India’s recent general elections that allows users to identify messages that aim to mislead voters. “Those monitoring social media content believe actions taken by social media giants to limit fake news are not even scraping the surface of the problem, since fraudulent posts are disseminated quicker than they can be taken down.”

Other measures to tackle misinformation

  1. Conduct secondary checks on Google or other sites before sharing any assertions made in the message one has received.
  2. Identifying the message’s source and origin. If you are unsure about the legitimacy and validity of the communication or its content, you might try to verify it before distributing it to others.
  3. Use fact-checking services. Several reputable fact-checking websites can assist consumers in verifying claims made on social media or viral communications.
  4. If the communication elicits powerful emotions, it was likely delivered for this purpose. Before sending any stunning or outrageous assertion to others who may believe it wholeheartedly, it must be confirmed.
  5. If the message contains videos or photographs, there is a chance that they will be modified or utilised out of context to deceive unwitting recipients. A simple Google reverse image search can disclose the image’s source and context. Any harm caused by such transmission may subject the person who did so to legal action.
  6. Occasionally, there will be noticeable spelling, punctuation, or other grammatical flaws, indicating the message’s inauthenticity. It is necessary to cultivate a healthy scepticism of social media content.

These basic steps can go a long way in combating disinformation and misinformation that are circulating during the coronavirus outbreak


India has been fighting two illnesses at the same time: one that is true and the other that is misinformation but equally deadly. Fake news has posed several challenges for governments at all levels in their efforts to combat the pandemic. To combat the spread of fake news, ensure that all relevant parties — media outlets, newspapers, IT firms, legislators, and other social media platforms — are working together to address the problem. The greatest way to ensure that the flow of fake news is stopped is to have good expert reporting and increased awareness among children, adults, and citizens.


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