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Disinformation on Social Media: India- by Kashish Wadhwa

The problem of fake news or disinformation appears to be one of the most significant problems. India is facing information wars on a very wide scale, we are bombarded with fake news on large scales on television and social media like Facebook and Whatsapp. These news are started in India by political parties with nationwide cyber mines, they target political parties and, religious minorities and individuals having propaganda against societal divisions and prejudices. The consequences of such fake news are devastating, from giving death threats to the actual murder. In past, more than 24 people have been lynched based on nothing more than rumours sent over WhatsApp.

In 2015, in the case of Shreya Singhal v UOI(2013)24 March, 2015, 12 S.C.C. 73 the Supreme Court tested the reasonable restrictions standard, has struck down the s.66A of IT ACT,2000. Regarding the section being against the right to speechand expression of the people as it was arbitrary. However, in other cases like Subramanian v UOI,8 October, 2004,the SC has upheld the constitutionality of criminal defamation sections of the Indian Penal Code.

Current Legislations in India.

1. INDIAN PENAL CODE

There is no provision in India that deals with fake news in seclusion, however, there are certain offences under the Indian Penal code that criminalise speech that may have “fake news” :

Section 124A deals with sedition, which states that if, anyone by words that are written or spoken or by signs or by visible representation to bring hatred or excites any attempt that would bring hatred to the government

Section 153A talks about promoting enmity between different groups or ground of religions, place of birth, residence, language and doing acts that are prejudicial to society

Section 259A deals with intentional & bitter actsthat are intended to outrage any feelings that are religious or any insult with the intention of harming religious faith of people.

Section 504 talks about intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of peace.

Section 499 deals with defamation, Whoever, by words either spoken or defaming a person by any words written or spoken to damage someone’sreputation with a false statement, to defame that person

2. The Information Technological Act-

The IT act regulates electronic commerce and gives certain cybercrimes. The IT Act had a section 66A that could have applied to instances of fake news but has since been struck down by the Supreme Court on the ground that did not fall within any of the reasonable exceptions to the exercise of the constitutional right to freedom of expression.

3. Internet Shut Downs-

Internet shutdowns are quite a common phenomenon in India, however, it is not down without a specific regulation governing it.

In India, these shutdowns are persuaded on basis of Section 144 of criminal procedure code, which is usually invoked for preventing any riots and also to impose curfew in any communally unsettled atmosphere where there is a danger to the safety of people due to their religious identity.

Section 5(2) of the Indian Telegraph Act also deals with the power that government has to take in control of certain telegraphs and inspection of these messages. This has been evoked multiple times during emergencies to prevent sovereignty and security of the state.

There is also a check on campaigns on TV and other electronic media by Election Commission of India to check whether candidates and political parties during the Parties during the period of 48 hours before the polling for elections ends. According to ECI, individuals are not allowed to express their views during the blackout period.

Recent Government Actions

Regarding the current pandemic, there is a lot of spread of fake news on platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, the government has made a letter to top social media handling companies to control the amount of information that is being shared on these platforms regarding Covid-19. It has also asked these social media platforms to start with awareness campaigns that aim to reach out as many people as possible that is authentic.  All social media handlers are made aware of the same in particular regard to the ongoing situation as it is a global pandemic and false issues like these will create panic and disturb social peace. It has also asked the social sites to remove any kind of misleading information and only to allow authentically and checked posts and articles. Strict actions to be taken against any kind of wrong and misleading information spread by the authorities in the same matter by reporting or blocking social media handlers of such repeated offenders. These social media handlers have to keep any sort of news to be as transparent as possible. Whatsapp has also come up with new features like the number of times a person can forward a particular message and also the fact-checking feature where a user can flag a message for its verification.

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