The early 2010s saw the dawn of social media culture by the rise of Myspace, Facebook, Youtube to name a few. If someone had told us then, that in the upcoming years, while we foray into a new decade of our life, we will blindly consume & share all types of news, only through the social media instruments that this internet generation has provided us, I would’ve told him- God bless
you, but a prophet you are not. Ten years in & it’s all true.
Fake news is not a millennial concept, it existed even when the only source of news was newspapers, the gifts of the industrial revolution which gave us printing presses. But today after the advent of social media & internet it has found tremendous application. Manipulation of algorithms of social media & search engines to garner masses has become a global trend. Deliberate misinformation, spreading of hoaxes, damaging the essence of trustworthy journalism is an imperative part of fake news propaganda. This fake news on social media, which is a result of yellow journalism, often finds its way in the mainstream media. The news on social media has reverberated as misinformation in the society. It has to be noted that fake news is written & published usually with the intent to mislead in order to damage an agency, entity, or a person. The news spread by such mongers of unprofessional & unethical journalism is outlined with sensational, dishonest & outright fabricated headlines to increase their readership among people. Fake news is a neologism, often used to refer fabricated news. Fake video clippings (usually unsolicited videos), news stories with morphed news logos, bots & paid commentators are not only promoting fake news but also putting the freedom of speech in danger. This ‘untrue’ & ‘unverified’ news has today become an issue of greater concern since the rise of ‘WhatsApp news’ culture in our country.
LAWS AGAINST FAKE NEWS
Even though there is no specific law in India to deal with fake news but there are statutory & self-regulatory bodies to act against the dissemination of misinformation. There have been various attempts by the government to tackle the issues of rising fake news & curb its effect in the nation
On 2nd April 2018, the Government amended the ‘Guidelines for Accreditation for journalists,’ in response to handling the fake news propaganda. The amendment made a provision of cancelling the accreditation of journalists even before the completion of the proposed 15-day inquiry. This amendment faced a lot of backlash &protests by media for being authoritative in nature, & as a result of it Government had to withdraw it after 15 hours of its publication. This was seen as an attempt by the Government to tackle the issue of fake news as this amendment would’ve made it mandatory for the media houses to be extra careful in publishing any news, if not, then the consequences would’ve been severe. But the effort went in vain. This was not the first time that the Government was unable to bring an action against the journalism laws in India. The Rajiv Gandhi Government also had to withdraw the 1988 Defamation Bill which aimed at curtailing press freedom, which ought to create new offences of ‘criminal imputation’ & ‘scurrilous writings.
So for now, there is no specific law against fake news in India. Unaltered news flow from article 19 of the constitution guaranteeing freedom of speech. As mentioned before a regulatory body such as Press Freedom of India, can warn, admonish or censure the news writings of the channel, news agency, editor of the news article or the journalist if it finds out that the particular news source supplying the news has not followed the ethics of journalism. Another self-regulatory body that governs the private television news & current affairs broadcast in the National Broadcasters Association. The NBA probes the complaints against the electronic media. India Broadcasts Foundation & Broadcasting Content Complaint Council also look into the complaints against the news broadcasted & especially in cases where the complaint is of news being fake or objectionable in nature.
Apart from these regulatory bodies the Indian statutes such as Indian Penal Code 1860 have certain sections which could curb fake news. Section 153 of IPC which states ‘wantonly giving provocation with intent to cause riot’ & Section 295 which states ‘injuring or defiling place of worship with the intent to insult the religion of any class’ can be invoked to guard against fake news. Section 66 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 also states that ‘if any person dishonestly or fraudulently does any act which amounts to damage shall be punishable.’
Civil & criminal case of defamation is another resort against fake news. IPC Section 499 & 500 which deals with defamation & its punishment helps in achieving the truthfulness of news.
AWARENESS & REGULATION NEEDED
Today India is listed at 142nd spot in Global Press Freedom Index among the 180 countries. This reflects the constant press freedom violations, including police violence against journalists. It is clearly understood that today media is not free. There are ulterior motives that drive the media community today. Be it the circulation of false video clippings in times of riots or WhatsApp messages that instigate lynching of innocent men. False news propaganda has been hampering the growth of a progressive nation.
Countering content manipulation & fake news to restore faith in social media without undermining the media freedom will not only require public education but also require conscience of people to try & understand the aspect of each & every information. People should not blindly follow anything they read or hear. Fake news education should be taught at a younger age so that in future these children can understand the difference between fake & genuine news. Controlling fake news is not an easy task, though there should be a balance between trolls that lead to national & international instability & control that it should not harm democracy.