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This article is written by Sanjana Jain, from Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, Delhi. This article talks about the government’s response to fake news, the impact of fake news and the laws relating to fake news.

Introduction

The problem of “fake news” has become a substantial problem in India. Fake news has existed from the time of the printing press, but it has found a tremendous application, in the era of the Internet and social media. In India,  there is no specific provision of law that deals with fake news. However, in the Indian Penal Code, there are certain provisions that make certain forms of speech a crime, that may be similar to fake news, and may apply to social media or online content.

Also, there are certain provisions (i.e Section 66 A) under the Information Technology Act, 2000 that prohibits the dissemination of information that a person knows to be false, which causes inconvenience, danger, annoyance, etc, through a computer resource or a communication device, but this provision has been struck down by Supreme Court as unconstitutional. Limited immunity has been established by the 2000 Act and the Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) 2011 for Social media and other internet companies for any content published by any third person if such content is illegal and provides that due diligence be observed by the intermediary companies for removing such illegal content. 

new legal draft

Fake news

There is no specific definition of fake news but it can be defined as news consisting of disinformation, which is spread via traditional news media like print and broadcast or online social media. Fake news can also be explained as “untrue and unverified news”, ‘untrue’ refers to facts which are false, whereas ‘unverified’ refers to cases in which facts might be true, but the numbers and characters of that fact are false. Thus fake news consists of stories and news which are created to deliberately misinform the readers.

Background

According to the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism‘s Director, the problem of disinformation in a country like India might be more challenging and difficult than they are in other countries. Because of the increase in internet users in India, which has been increased from 137 million internet users in 2012 to over 600 million internet users in 2019, the damage caused due to fake news has increased. With millions of users, India is the largest market for WhatsApp, Facebook, and Twitter,  and as a result, the platforms on which fake news is spread. One of the problems is that due to lack of awareness, receivers believe anything sent to them over social media. Thus various steps have been taken to prevent the spread and impact of fake news.

According to the report by the Indian media research agency, the reason for the spread of fake news is that India lacked a media policy for verification. Police have arrested some of the reporters and journalists for creating fictitious articles, especially when the topic of articles was controversial.

Current scenario of fake news in India

In India, WhatsApp is the prime distributor of fake news among the other social media sites like Facebook or Twitter. WhatsApp is acquired by the social media giant Facebook, this platform allows its users to exchange information with each other by forwarding the information into WhatsApp groups and broadcast lists, which leads to the widespread of information, it not only misleads the people on social media but also triggers violence around the country.

For instance, in 2018, a small village in Assam, named PanjuriKachari, witnessed one of the cases of lynching. There was one video which went viral, which shows two men who were soaked in blood pleading for their lives, and after that they were dead. These two men were from Guwahati and were beaten to death by a village mob, as they were mistaken to be kidnappers of a child. This case was widely discussed in the media that how rumours spread on WhatsApp and Facebook lead to the death of 2 people. In this case of lynching around 20 people were victims, due to the rumours spread through WhatsApp and Facebook, and around 18 people were killed because of violence which was triggered by the rumours spread on  WhatsApp and Facebook.

This instance leads the West Bengal Government to work towards the implementation of the law. The violence in these cases was due to the spread of rumours of misinformation on social media, and the proposed legislation of the new law has strict action against those people who are at fault for spreading hatred and fake news among the people in the country.

Impact of fake news

Fake news has major impacts, as information shapes our view towards the world and we make important decisions based on information, so spreading misinformation will cause confusion and stress among the public. Fake news that is created deliberately to mislead or cause harm to the public is also called as digital disinformation, disinformation suggests bogus data which is proposed to misdirect the public, it interrupts election processes, and also creates disputes among the public.

Fake news under the current situation

One of the examples of this is on April 2, 2020, in Indore, Madhya Pradesh, when a team of doctors had gone to test the family of a 65-year-old man who died due to COVID-19 and the doctors were attacked by the family members, after the viral of fake videos that show that Muslim people are taken away forcefully and are injected with the CoronaVirus.

On April 18, 2020, a study on misinformation in India was released by the University of Michigan, which shows how debunked stories have increased in India, mainly after the announcement of the Janta curfew on 22 March 2020,  by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and the countrywide lockdown after that, in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The Study has taken unique instances of misinformation from the records maintained by Tattle Civic Technology, a news project in Delhi that prevents misinformation by making accurate information more easily reachable to mobile-first users, in the language, they are comfortable with, the record represents all the stories that have been debunked between January 23 and April 12, 2020.

Laws relating to fake news

There is no specific law related to fake news in India that prevents fake news, Article 19 of the constitution of India which guarantees freedom of speech also provides the freedom of publication of news. The various laws dealing to resolve the dispute and issues arising because of fake news are as follows:

Press Council Act, 1978

In the Press Council Act, 1978, the council by the name of Press Council of India is a  regulatory body, which can admonish or censure the newspaper, the news agency, the editor or the journalist of that newspaper or it can also disapprove the conduct of the editor or the journalist if the council finds out that a newspaper or a news agency has violated any journalistic ethics.

Disaster Management Act, 2005

Under Disaster Management Act, 2005, section 54 provides for the punishment for lifting any false alarm of a national disaster which says that:

if any person circulates any fake news or warning as to disaster, or regarding its severity or magnitude, which leads to panic among the public, then such person shall be punished with one year of imprisonment  or with fine.”

The application of section 54 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, along with section 505(1)(b) of IPC in the present situation of Covid-19 can be useful to many. According to section 505(1)(b) of IPC if any person circulates any fake news with the intention to cause fear or alarm among the public, is said to be committed an offence against the State or public tranquillity, and such a person shall be punished with three years of imprisonment or with fine or both.

Indian Penal Code, 1860

Indian Penal Code (IPC) has certain sections which could prevent fake news, the following offences under India’s Penal Code make certain forms of speech as crime, that may constitute “fake news”:

  • Section 124 A  Sedition-if any person attempts to bring hatred or dissatisfaction towards the government, by words, either oral or written or by signs or otherwise then such a person shall be punished with either imprisonment or fine.
  • Section 295A– deliberate and malicious acts, that insults the religion or  religious beliefs-“if any person intended to outrage the religious feelings of any class, by words either oral or written or by signs or otherwise attempts to insult the religion or religious belief of that class, by deliberate or malicious acts, then such a person shall be punished with imprisonment or fine or both.”
  • Section 499– Defamation-“if any person  makes or publishes any statement concerning any person with the intention to harm the reputation of such person, then such a person has committed a crime of defamation.”
  • Section 503: Criminal intimidation- “if any person threatens another person with any harm to him, or to his reputation or property, with intent to made  that person to do an act which he is not bound to do lawfully, or omit an act which he is lawfully entitled to, then such a person has to commit an offence of criminal intimidation.”
  • Section: 504– provoking a breach of the peace by intentional insult- “if any person provokes another person by intentionally insulting him, with the intent that such provocation will make him break the public peace or make him commit an offence, then such a person shall be punished with either 2 years of imprisonment with fine or with both.” 
  • Section 505-statement conducting to Public mischief- “if any person publishes any information or rumour, which causes fear among the public, then such a person shall be punished with 5 years of imprisonment with fine or both”.

The 267th Law Commission of India report suggests adding two provisions of IPC to further discourage hate speech, it recommends section 153C to be added to prohibit incitement to hatred and section 509A to prohibit speech that causes fear or triggers violence.

Information Technology Act, 2000

Section 69 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 provides how the controller can extend to any agency the facilities to decrypt information for intercepting any information transferred through any computer resource.

Section 79 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 provides intermediaries limited immunity for any content posted by third parties if it is illegal. Section 79 declares that under this act, no person providing service as an intermediary shall be liable, for any information, data, or communication link made available or hosted by a third party. The provision comes into action if the intermediary proves that he has no knowledge about the offence or he has exercised due diligence in order to prevent the commission of such an offence.

Steps taken by Government to prevent the spread of fake news

The Government used internet shutdown as a way to control social media rumours from spreading. According to the US-based research and advocacy organization, the Freedom House, with one hundred reported shutdowns in 2018 alone, India has become the world leader in Internet shutdowns. 11 cases of internet shutdowns were reported In June 2019,  by the Soft Freedom Law Center India, from the 11 cases reported, 7 were in the area of Jammu and Kashmir, while only 2 shutdown cases were recorded in West Bengal. The Indian Government has used internet shutdown as a tool to deal with fake news on several occasions. In June 2018, in northeast India, the internet access was cut, when the mobs beat 3 people to death in lynching which was came in lamplight because of the rumours spread on smartphones.

Apart from the Internet shutdown, the government has ordered the social media platforms to remove all the information from the platform that misleads people, and promote authentic information on the virus and also ordered to start awareness campaigns.

Also, the Brazilian Congress was considering a Bill that will criminalize the sharing and publication of any information on the internet or any social media platforms that is false or incomplete.

Some examples of fake news in India

Coronavirus

Fake news related to coronavirus was in the form of social media messages, that tell the home remedies that will cure the virus, and such remedies have not been verified. Because of the circulation of these fake news about the coronavirus, at least two people were arrested. Also prime minister Narender Modi, on 7 March 2020, appealed not to spread and also not believe in the rumours related to Coronavirus. As of 14 April 2020, over 400  Indian scientists are working to debunk false information about the virus.

 Citizenship (Amendment) Act  of 2019

The supreme court of India in order to remove the fake news that’s been circulated about the act, asked the central government of India to publish aims, objectives and the benefits of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), as 95% of protesters do not know what actually is CAA,  and because of fake news that’s been spreading they think that this act will take back their citizenship.

Recent Judgment on fake news

In March 2020, in the case of Alakh Alok Srivastava v. Union of India  the Supreme Court of India identified the problem of infodemics in India and passed an order asking the state government to comply with the directions issued by the Centre to prevent fake news. The court further recognized the need to have daily news to be issued by the Government of India with the help of the media regarding Coronavirus, such that the panic caused among the public because of the uncontrolled flow of fake news can be prevented. In this petition, it was pointed out that the migration of a large number of labourers was triggered by the panic created by the fake news that the lockdown will be held for more than 3 months. Such a panic caused damage to many labourers who believed and acted upon such news, some of the poor migrant labourers have lost their lives in all this process. Thus it is not possible to overlook the risk of spread of fake news either by print, or social media.

Conclusion

Fake news is considered by the governments around the world as a threat to political legitimacy and  democratic institutions  Governments across the world have taken action against the threat posed by fake news in various ways, including:

  • Making laws against the spread of fake news online
  • blocking of social media and other online platforms
  •  Making laws against foreign interference in elections
  • By increasing regulation of social media
  • By media awareness campaigns
  • By monitoring on social media, and
  • By promotion of authentic content.

India today is combating two infections at the same time, one genuine (coronavirus) and the other being the false one (fake news) however similarly deadly. Fake news is creating various obstacles for the  Government at all levels in their battle to prevent the spread of coronavirus. So the best method to guarantee the stoppage of the flow of the fake news is, a solid expert reporting and the attentiveness among the youngsters,  grown-ups, and the citizens.

References


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