In a situation where the internet is flooded with fake news and myths about the Covid-19, WHO has rightly stated that the world is not just wrestling with a pandemic but an “infodemic”. Almost every week a weird myth comes up about the pandemic. There are days when we wake up to a heart wrenching fake news stating a famous personality has died of the disease when the person hasn’t even been infected, while sometimes a new message pops in our phone stating the weirdest of weird preventive measures for the disease ranging from salt water can prevent corona to the vibration of the cell phone keeps the disease at bay. India is facing this problem from years now. In 2019, it reached a new record. News checkers said that they felt there was a spike in misinformation regarding various issues ranging from Article 370 to Elections.
With so much information floating in social media, people does not know what to believe and what to not. People are confused and panicked. This is probably making people ponder over the Question “Is it time for India to make laws criminalizing fake news?”
COUNTRIES WHICH HAD ALREADY CRIMINALIZED FAKE NEWS
China has declared spreading of fake news a criminal offence on 2016. On 2020, it further strengthened its hold saying that it will be a crime if sites posting fake news do not expressly mention that the post was made using technology. Apart from these, China had launched Apps where common people can report rumours.
On 2019, the much controversial Singaporean Anti-fake law came into effect which gave the ministers of Singapore the power to act against fake laws. They were given the authority to instruct the Social Media platforms to take down such information and also to put warnings against posts which are false.
On 2018, the Belarus Government made amendments on the media laws of the Country. The country passed a law which could prosecute publishers who spread misinformation.
On 2018, France passed two law which gave judges the authority to remove false information during the election campaign.
On 2018, the country passed a law which provided the social media platforms with a deadline to remove misinformation from their sites, failure of which will lead to levy of heavy fines.
On 2019, the Russian Government passed an anti-fake news law. Since then, Russia has imposed heavy fines on publishers of misinformation. The Russian President passed a law which he stated could stop news which disregards the government.
Apart from these, there are countries which have taken commendable steps to curb the free flowing of false information which includes Belgium, Côte d’Ivoire, Bahrain and Australia. These countries have started a lot of awareness campaigns and developed task forces to help curb misinformation.
WHAT INDIA IS DOING TO CURB FAKE NEWS
Social Media can spread misinformation in a jiffy which can not only cause anxiety but can even destroy lives. Therefore, Social Media can play an active role when it comes to limiting fake news. On 2020, the Government of India has instructed all the prominent Social media platforms including Tik Tok, You Tube and Facebook to remove fake news from their sites and also start Awareness Campaign for the same. Recently, Tik Tok has started an anti-fake news programme called #MatKarForward Campaign in collaboration with prominent faces. Last year, WhatsApp relaunched its radio ad campaign across India to curb fake news. On 2019, just before the Elections Facebook actively took part in programmes which helped in curbing menaces caused by fake news.
To tackle the pandemic, the Government of India had created a help desk in collaboration with WhatsApp. The helpdesk has answers to common questions ranging from symptoms to prevention of Covid-19. Also, it provides the users with a helpline number which they can access in case of any further query. This is indeed a commendable step which will help the Government in transmitting correct information to the mass. Amidst the Corona scare, the Rajasthan Government has taken a laudable step to save people from the clutches of false information. They had started an anti-fake news campaign. This is not the first time that the State has taken steps against circulation of fake news. Earlier, in November, 2018, just before the Rajasthan polls, the State hosted an education training programme which could help people in differentiating between false news and real ones. The State pointed out that education is one of the weapons which could teach verification and in the process help fight the evils of fake news.
DOES INDIA NEED A LAW CRIMINALIZING FAKE NEWS?
Amidst menaces of fake news people often feel that an easy solution to the hazards of fake news is to make laws criminalizing fake news. A lot of countries have even done that. But, it has its own share of problems. The dark side of criminalizing fake news is that the ruling government often use it in order to hide its in capabilities. In disguise of banning fake news, they often prevent healthy criticisms of the ruling government from reaching the public ears.
A lot of countries which have criminalized fake news has faced a storm of negative reviews and protests from critics. Singapore is one of such countries. After it gave the ministers authority to differentiate between “fake” and “real” news, critics observed that it was almost a dictatorial power which could prevent opinions and criticisms against the Government from reaching people’s ears. Google pointed out that it can cause major setback of “digital innovation”. In France, after President Emmanuel Macron introduced two anti-fake news laws during the election campaign, it was heavily criticised. Critics voiced that it can compromise transparency. The German Government faced similar criticisms when it introduced laws against misinformation.
Introducing laws might seem to be a one-stop solution for the problem but the threats which it brings along with it cannot be ignored. Anti-fake news Laws can be used by the ruling government to accomplish their selfish motives. It can hamper the working of the media which acts as an effective watchdog against the ruling government. Therefore, formulation of Anti-fake news laws is probably not the best way of tackling problems of fake-news circulation.
India has no doubt gone a long way in curbing misinformation and busting myths but still it’s not enough. In a country where access to Internet is a fundamental Right, no doubt people from all classes have access to the Internet, which is often used as a means to spread false information. Firstly, Government has to conducts workshops for the people at grass-roots level which will teach them the basics of verification of news. Secondly, social media operators should be more active. They should try to break the chain of false news circulation before it gets too late. Also, more people should be trained and hired as professional fact checkers. Lastly, if people could be made aware of how they are putting the lives of thousands at stake by one click of the share button by conducting seminars and workshop, it will the most effective step and no laws which could be misused will be required.
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Author: DISHANI BAKSHI,
1st Year, MNLU, Nagpur.