Misinformation
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This article is written by Aditya Chopra, a 4th-year law student at RGNUL, Punjab. 

Introduction 

Misinformation is a global problem. Every country of the world has encountered it in one or more ways. India is no exception to it. Today we are living in the age of the Internet where Social Media is working at a large base and that is why the problem of Misinformation is more serious. Before moving further, it is very important to define Misinformation. Some of the definitions are: “Ethical Journalism says that Misinformation is the information which is fabricated and is spread like true facts but is false.” The Press Council of India says that misinformation as news, story, information, report as wholly false. Most Importantly misinformation is defined by Justice S.K Kaul of the Supreme Court of India, “Misinformation is that kind of news which is more dangerous than Covid-19.”

The misinformation news reports disseminate like a fire on social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, WhatsApp, etc. The Misinformation particularly in Covid-19 days has claimed a large number of lives. In India, during Covid-19 Lockdown since March 2020 there has been a consistent increase of social media users and there are instances of the misuse of these platforms. Today, countries like India are facing a twin challenge, the first is fighting with the deadly virus (Covid-19) and the second is fake news or misinformation problems during these challenging times. The unlimited freedom given to social media platforms tends to misuse the freedom given by the Indian Constitution under Article-19. A few years ago, the term fake news was used very sparingly. But in today’s era, the term is used very frequently.

Current Scenario of Fake News and Its Impact in Society during Covid-19 and Farmers Protest 

Certain incidents by Fake News during Pandemic are:

  • During the Pandemic in Madhya Pradesh, a team of doctors, health workers, and other frontline workers went to identify the family members of 65-year-old Covid-19 deceased, were subsequently attacked by the family members as the fake news spread that the team of doctors is injecting Covid-19 virus into the people. As of April 2, 2020, fake news went viral on social networking sites that a team of doctors is injecting the Covid-19 virus in healthy Muslims. 
  • Another fake news information during March-April 2020 spread among the people in India that anyone who is having covid-19 should take-home medication and he/she should not consult the doctor if he consults the doctor then they will take him/her to hospital where his/her medical condition will deteriorate and their chances of survival will be very less if admitted to hospital.
  • Another fake news spread on Internet the chief spreader of the Covid-19 virus is Tablighi Jamaat people who have covid-19 have spread into different parts of India and they are spreading the virus in different regions of India and they should be tried and sentenced to imprisonment. But later there is no incidence reported by checking all the facts that they are the actual spreaders of covid-19 as this is merely a piece of fake news and tending to create panic in the society and hatred feeling in the society. 
  • Another Fake News arose in India that Protesting farmers who have been protesting since November 2020 against 3 farming laws passed by the Central Government. On various social networking sites they are labelled as violent groups funded by the Canada-related group to incite violence in India and they are being led as Muslim extremists groups to incite violence and spread terror in India.
  • Meat Traders in India are also hard hit by the fake news on WhatsApp, Facebook, etc, as it says that people eating vegetarian food are less prone to covid-19 whereas people who eat non-vegetarian are more prone to covid-19. This led to affecting the business of meat traders.

Different laws in India made to Curb Fake News

There is no specified law to curb fake news in India but certain laws already in the Indian Legal system that can prevent fake news in India are:

Disaster Management Act

As we all know, the Disaster Management Act has been in force in India since last year. It says that if anyone tends to circulate fake news on the medium of the Internet or gives any warning as a disaster which creates panic in persons then that person will be punished with one year of imprisonment or fine or both. 

Indian Penal Code

Indian Penal Code also prevents fake news under the following sections:

Section 124A

According to this section if anyone tends to create dissatisfaction towards the government either by words or spoken shall be punished with imprisonment with a fine.

Section 295A

This section says that if anyone tends to create a feeling of outrageousness to any religion or insults particular religion with words or spoken shall be punished with imprisonment with a fine or both.

Section 499

According to this section if anyone publishes or makes any information that harms the reputation of a person shall be punished with defamation shall be punished with imprisonment or fine or both. 

Section 505

This section says if anyone publishes any information or any rumour which creates fear and panic in minds of a person shall be punished with 5 years of imprisonment or fine or both. 

Press Council of India Act

Press Council of India is a regulatory body of conduct of editors and newspapers, and it can censure any newspaper, news agency, and it disapproves the conduct of Journalists under the Journalists ethics code.

Information Technology Act, 2002 

Section-69 of the Information Technology Act says that the controller can extend the decrypting of the information facility to any agency for any information transmitted through a computer source. If the person fails to assist the agency, then he will be liable to imprisonment of a maximum of 7 years. Also under Section-79 of the Information Technology Act, it says that network service providers remove or disable access to illegal or false information and it also talks about the liability of the intermediary if it does not disable the access which is illegal or false information. 

In September 2018 the High-Level Committee headed by Rajiv Gauba, an Indian Administrative Service Officer at the Central level recommended that the social media giants like WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, etc would face criminal trials if they fail to filter out the fake news on their social media platforms or failed to disable the access to fake information which in turn incites the violence or create panic in the people of India. But the above has very little effect on the problem of fake news in India.

Supreme Court of India Efforts to Curb Fake News During Covid-19 and Farmers Protest

During Covid-19 many writ petitions are filed in various High Courts and Supreme Court of India to curb the fake news and evolving guidelines to curb fake news in India during these harsh times of Pandemic. Some of the Important cases are:

Alakh Alok Srivastava vs Union of India, 2020

In this petitioner contended that fake news disseminates like a fire that the lockdown in March 2020 will last after more than 3 months. In this, it caused panic among the labourers and they started migrating to their native homes on foot and some lost their lives on roads. Taking seriously the matter, the Supreme Court of India cautioned about fake news during pandemic and the state governments to follow the guidelines framed by the central government to curb the fake news. The Supreme Court also held that there is a need to issue daily news by the central government with the help of the media in order to prevent fake information on the covid-19 pandemic.

Geeta Seshu vs Commissioner of Police,2020

The division bench of Bombay High Court dismissed the writ petition for setting aside the 23rd May 2020 order in which it says that issuing Prohibitor orders is holding the administrators of social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, etc for spreading the fake news information on social media groups. 

Ashish Bhalla vs Suresh Chaudhary,2016 

In this case, also Delhi High Court in 2016 made an order to held responsible the administrators of social media platform groups on WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram for the content published on the group which is illogical, false, and misleading, etc. 

Vineet Goenka vs Union of India,2020

In this case, a Writ Petition is filed in the Supreme Court of India to check the curbs on fake news on social media platform handles especially on Twitter and Facebook, etc. Petitioner in his petition contended that there are hundreds of fake accounts of high dignitaries on Twitter handles. There should be a check on these fake accounts as they are the potent cause of spreading the fake information which in turn creates panic in the country during the lockdown. The Supreme Court of India issued a direction to the Central government to create a mechanism to curb the spreading of fake information from fake accounts on Twitter. Other than this, Vineet Jindal, advocate also filed Public Interest Litigation on the same grounds to check the curbs on fake news on social media platforms and seeking the intervention of the Supreme Court to issue directions for creating mechanisms to curb fake information creating panic in the country.

Central Government Announces Social Media Guidelines to Curb Fake and Hatred News

Recently the Central Government announced its guidelines for curbing fake news on Social Media handles like Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, etc, which is creating panic in people all over the country. Central government titled these guidelines as Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code Rules, 2021. Speaking to this, Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad of Information and Technology, said that there is rampant use of social media platforms in spreading misinformation and inciting violence, and creating panic in the country. The new rules of Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics will create a system to control this misinformation in the country. He also pointed out that many people die every year in India due to the spreading of fake news which incites violence leading to communal tension and disharmony in the country. 

  • On the basis of Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics rules, 2021 the Social Media Platform will be required to appoint the grievances officer who will listen to the grievance of the persons dissatisfied by the news posted on the social media platforms and will register the complaint on the basis of grievance registered by the people within 24 hours. 
  • The Grievance Redressal Officer should be a resident of India and must file a report on a monthly basis of social media platforms to the Department of Information and Technology. 
  • The social media platforms are required to put down the news containing fake information on its platforms if ordered by court or government within 24 hours and they will also be required to give the information of the person who posted the news containing the fake facts on social media which are only required for the prevention, detection, investigation, and prosecution of the person making the incitement of violence by spreading fake news on social media platforms.
  • These rules nowhere mention disclosing the contents of the message or any other type of information to the first originator.
  • The Social Media platforms will have the provision for voluntary verification of their users so that unverified users on these platforms are restrained who act in spreading fake information to different parts of the country.
  • The Social Media platforms will be given 3 months to implement the new rules of Information and Technology.
  • If the Social Media platforms break the new rules mentioned in Information and Technology then they will be punished under the appropriate laws.

By doing this the Fake news spreading by unverified users on social media platforms will act as a curb to this misguided information online. The Union Minister of Information and Technology said that in India every person is given the right to dissent as per the Constitution of India but the dissent which incites violence and produces disharmony in the country by spreading fake news on social media platforms will be punished and held responsible under the eyes of the law.

Conclusion 

As we all know Media is the fourth pillar of democracy in India. Anything which is transmitted from the original source to a large number of people by the intermediary is called Media.  Media acts as an intermediary of providing information from one original source to a large number of people to different parts of the world. But in recent times the acts of Misinformation spreading from social media to different parts of the world, people are losing faith in the Media. The problem of fake news has been evolved recently. In earlier times the fake news is not known in India. This is a newly developed problem with the increase of social media platforms in this internet age and with an increase of smartphones and increases of social media groups like Twitter, Facebook, etc, there is also seen a drastic increase in fake news in India. The above-mentioned Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code Rules, 2021 an initiative taken by the Government of India can be used to curb misinformation in India on Social Media Platforms.


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