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COUNTERING FAKE NEWS: A CRITICAL APPRAISAL OF SOCIAL MEDIA REGULATORY LAWS

I. Introduction

Social media acts as a mode of marketing, networking, and raising awareness among people. It is a platform on which people from around the world are connected and use it in multiple ways. A platform, where a large pool of people participates, it is likely to be prone to be misused. In the present time, when internet access is not only comfortable but also at minimal rates, social media becomes a threat to all of us. Subsequently, we are all dealing with social media threats like fake news, data sharing, and violation of privacy. Information is one such factor that gets highly distorted when passed on from one person to another, or at times it takes different tangents, and the core value associated with that information gets destroyed. In the article, the author is going to talk about one such aspect of the information provided, i.e. fake news.

II. Fake News: A Major Problem

Fake news gained attention worldwide after the US Presidential Elections 2016. A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center shows that about 64% of adults in America feel that fake news has an impact on society. Now, in India, the propagation of fake news is a huge issue. With an increase in the use of social media platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp, one cannot ensure the authenticity of the information. Information on these networking sites spread like fire. People tend to believe the information to be correct and forward it immediately in various groups. At times, some influential people or anyone else paid by them generate false information to attack people’s opinions in order to influence them. The concept of fake news poses a threat to the privacy of the people and national security. India has become a country where the threat of fake news is increasing day by day due to political and sociological factors.

III. Government’s Stance and Regulations

The central government has stated that social media might cause ‘unimaginable disruption’ of democracy, so it decided to introduce various rules to regulate it. The Modi government aimed at countering the fake news and various other online crimes. Nevertheless, with it comes the ultimate fear of clamping down the freedom of speech granted under Article 19(1)(a) of India’s Constitution. Last year the government took to amending the intermediary guidelines. They had released a draft of the same in 2018 for the public comment. It directed the intermediaries to warn the public before posting or circulating any information that may be fake or may not belong to them. India does not have any particular law or statute that regulates social media’s functioning, which adds to the gravity of online crimes. However, specific statutes have provisions regarding social media regulation, like the Section 66(A), 69A, and 70 of the Information Technology Act, 2000. Section 66A criminalizes the act of sending any offensive message using any online resource. Section 69A plays an important in combating fake news as it gives the government the power to stop any information from publishing based on various public grounds. Section 79 requires the intermediaries to act as watchdogs and scrutinize information that is being made public.

The recent guidelines, yet to be published by the government, state that social media sites like WhatsApp, Facebook, TikTok, YouTube, etc. have to share the users’ information when asked by the government. The government considered it as a way to regulate social media. The Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), which comprises members from various internet giants, expressed their concern over such guidelines. They stated that these guidelines would be considered as a violation f the right of privacy of its users. This rule will apply to all social media platforms and messaging apps, with more than five million users. There is a dilemma between whether to conform to the new guidelines or to respect their users’ privacy. Recently, in one of the incidents of fake news propagation on WhatsApp, five men were lynched and beaten to death in Maharashtra, but WhatsApp refused to share user information with the Government due to its end-to-end encryption promise.

IV. Impact of Fake News on the Society

In the era of the internet, with new social media sites coming up, fake news has become a severe problem. There have been times when people believed the information passed on a WhatsApp group and which led to riots and even lynching. WhatsApp is one such messaging app most vulnerable to such instances of fake news in India. Millions of people get access to such information, and most of them are uneducated. It is the group of people which is vulnerable to such fake news. It is the section that is getting affected by such fake news, which can be a tactic of some influential persons like the politicians, the actors, etc. It has become a political agenda (as seen in 2018 Karnataka Assembly Elections), wherein the information about the opposing party was released without being verified. Propagation of fake news is not just related to political factors. It is at times generated for various corporate reasons like the hiding of profits, embezzlement with funds, etc. In the current scenario, there was a series of fake information being circulated by people on WhatsApp regarding Covid-19. It included various remedies or fake cases or various sources of coronavirus. In order to curb this, the Indian government brought forward the Aarogya Setu app, which publishes only authentic information and ensures no such fake news is given attention.

Fake news has slowly started shaking the faith of the people. People, who understand the existence of such false information, make sure to read the information properly and verify its source and then determine the originality of such information. If all the social media users follow these measures, there is no way a community or group of people could be led astray with the publication of any such fake news.

V. Conclusion

The problem of fake news on various platforms is essential to be acknowledged now. In this new age of the internet, billions of people are connected to social media; regulations must be introduced to preserve their trust in social media platforms, Instead of putting all the blame on social media sites, the government should consider all the stakeholders of such fake information because it can be made up and spread by anyone. A full scenario must be kept in mind while drafting the regulations. To counter fake news, the only steps to be taken are; i) educating the social media, ii) enforcing strict regulations, and iii) creating a full-proof curative method for social media sites before the publication of any information. The government can play an active role in verifying the information by bringing up portals that can be accessed by the people for authentic information. Social media sites should ensure that they inform the users before posting any information about the content of the information they are about to post. This issue should be addressed soon because; with millions of people getting connected to social media in 2020, the challenges posed by fake news and online crimes will continue to grow.


- LEGAL HUMMING

(CO-AUTHOR PRIYANSHI JAIN)

LEGAL HUMMING

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