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Sansad TV: Perspective- Tackling Fake News

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Introduction:

Terming lack of patience and tolerance biggest challenge of our age, Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud has said that truth is a victim in an age of false news. Speaking at a conference organised by the American Bar Association, CJI Chandrachud said a danger that society faces is that technology and its repercussions are flowing out of control. He also spoke about use of technology by the judiciary and issues confronting the judicial profession. In September 2021 also the Supreme Court had expressed grave concern over web portals and YouTube channels for spreading fake news in the absence of a regulatory mechanism. Over the years the Government has put in place statutory and institutional mechanisms to combat fake news. For Print Media, Press Council of India has framed ”Norms of Journalistic Conduct” under the Press Council Act, 1978 and all TV Channels are required to adhere to the Programme Code under the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995. For digital news publishers, the Government has notified the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 under the IT Act, 2000. A Fact Check Unit has been set up under Press Information Bureau under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

Meaning:

  • Fake news is a deliberate lie or a half-truthcirculated with the intention to mislead or cause harm to a section of people.
  • The novel coronavirus, however, has opened up an entirely different problem: the life-endangering consequences of supposed cures, misleading claims, snake-oil sales pitches and conspiracy theories about the outbreak.
  • Fake news is any piece of misleading maliciously false information circulating through print media, electronic media or social media.
  • ‘Yellow Journalism’ and ‘Tabloid Journalism’ are the terms used for fake news.
  • There is no dedicated fake news law.

Need for regulation:

  • With such a large market share, these significant data fiduciaries have an obligation to abide by the law of the land, in the interest of the data subjects in India at large.
  • The recent stand taken by some of the data fiduciaries indicates that they are using their significant market power to defy rules of the land in which they operate.
  • While a democratic country such as India always has legal recourse and the judiciary to oversee undue exercise of power by the State, this should not be taken as the first step by the data fiduciaries, as has been recently done.

Impact:

  • Negative impact on law and order of the state as well as the safety and security of the citizens.
  • Breed communal hatred and disturbs the communal harmony in a society.
  • Affects the election outcomes via fabricated articles, audio, videos, and election campaigns. (Fake news accused of tampering U.S Presidential elections)

How this Misinformation spreads:

  • Some misinformation circulates peer-to-peer on social mediaand on encrypted messaging services as people share supposed miracle cures and ineffective alternative health tips in good faith or carelessly. This can create problems.
  • But arguably, far more problematic is when people in positions of authority and prominent public figures promote measures that have no scientific basis in the middle of a deadly pandemic.
  • Meanwhile, Indian authorities often seem mostly interested in going after alleged misinformationfrom activists (only 9% of our Indian survey respondents identify activist groups as the most concerning source of false or misleading information about the coronavirus), select journalists and news organisations (named by 13%), or on Twitter (which just 4% identify as the platform they are most concerned about).
  • The picture is clear many Indians think that misinformation about the pandemic often comes from the top.

Laws to curb fake news:

  • Section 66 D of the IT Act 2008 regulates offences related to electronic communication.
  • The Disaster Management Act 2005 and the Epidemic Diseases Act 1897 (especially during Covid-19) regulate the circulation of fake news or rumours that can cause panic among citizens.
  • The Indian Penal Code of 1860 regulates fake news that causes riots and information that causes defamation.

Measures taken around the world against Fake news spread:

  • Some of the countries are also addressing the issue in a more general way by educating citizens about the dangers of fake news (Sweden and Kenya).
  • Sweden starts at a young age, having enlisted a famous cartoon character to teach children about the dangers of fake news through a cartoon strip that illustrates what happens to the bear’s super-strength when false rumours are circulated about him.
  • The US Embassy in Kenya launched a media literacy campaign in 2018, initially aimed at the Kenya chapter of the Young African Leaders Initiative, with the specific goal of stopping the dissemination of fake news.
  • For India, If authorities in India are serious about addressing misinformation, they might take a cue from the fact that much of the Indian public clearly recognise that misinformation often comes from the top, and spend less time worrying about activists, journalists, and Twitter.
  • More time thinking about how to ensure that citizens can trust that the health remedies promoted by their own governments and by prominent political figures are actually safe and effective.

Challenges before the government:

  • Due to end-to-end encryptionof messages, third parties will not have any access to these messages. Hence, such fake news comes to the attention of the administration only if it is reported.
  • Too stringent a policy of policing could violate the individual’s right to privacy.
  • It’s not easy to force to give up on the app’s unique selling proposition to the user of complete end-to-end confidentiality.

Way forward

  • Government should have a mechanism for immediately issuing of notice against sites/people/agencies involved in spreading fake news.
  • Secondly, Social media websites should be made accountableof such activities so that it becomes their responsibility to have better control over the spread of fake news.
  • Technology has its own benefits, especially social media with wide outreach. In the midst of a pandemic, there was WhatsApp, Facebook, and Twitter for SOS calls.
  • As India is not a surveillance state, there must not be any illegal check which are the fundamental rights of every citizen.
  • Any future legislation should take the whole picture into account and not blame the media and go for knee-jerk reactions in this age of new media anyone can create and circulate new for undisclosed benefits.