This article has been written by Shefali Chitkara, a Law student at
Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies, GGSIPU
Now-a-days many people have developed a new mode of entertainment for them that is “spreading fake news”. While the world is trying to get the grasp of corona virus, social media is filled with all sorts of posts from information about the disease’s outbreak to false news about its origin and spread. This article highlights the drawbacks of fake news and also the consequences of such news. It has also focused on the importance of some trusted sources like WHO rather than any social media handle. Further, it has talked about an action-oriented approach that should be adopted in order to stop the flow of fake news and also some other steps to be taken in order to fight against fake news. The article also throw light on the provisions of IPC that addresses this issue.
In this era of “Social Media”, the pace through which the information reaches all the corners of the earth is treacherous. However, it is even more dangerous when the fake news like Corona virus was developed in Chinese labs, it can be cured by ingesting fish-tank cleaning products spread. Why does misinformation thrive? Does all this fake news mean that people are hopelessly credulous? But the fact is people actually share fake news for entertainment. Even on 15 February, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who is the director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO) said,
“We’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic. Fake news spreads faster and more easily than this virus and is just as dangerous”. And if we don’t handle this, he further said, “we’re headed down a dark path that leads nowhere but division and disharmony”.
Social media can create panic among the people about the disease which is unwarranted. On the other hand, such misinformation could literally kill people. A case happened in Iran where people had died from drinking industrial-strength alcohol, based on a false claim that it could protect them from Covid-19. We are bombarded with the information all day, every day, and we therefore often rely on our instinct to decide whether something is accurate. As the fake news about corona virus is going viral faster than the disease itself, people are deriving their information from social media rather than the trusted sources such as an official WHO website which is a dangerously worrying prospect. So checking is must. It is important to reinforce our belief in real news, and in sound advice. Information must be checked carefully before forwarding it to anyone. The fight against the coronavirus pandemic is as much about banishing fake news, as it is a global health crisis. Though there is a right to information as a fundamental right with the citizens but that doesn’t mean that anyone will provide you with any information whether right or wrong and you will grasp it. As a rational man, you first must check the source of information and be assure of that information being true, then only take a next step.
FIGHT AGAINST FAKE NEWS
This is a critical time for wider informed engagement on subject, and the weeding out of all posts propagating false information and rumors. An action-oriented approach should be adopted. The social media platforms that are identified as ‘Intermediaries’ under the Information Technology Act, 2008 need to come in force and eliminate such content without waiting for law enforcement or judicial reference. Law related agencies, on the other hand, need to take actions against content generators and transmitters of such fake news.
Although some state police forces have made arrests in Mizoram, Odisha; but there is a wider need to look at the existing laws also to directly address fake news. In some of the arrests, provisions of section 54 of the Disaster Management Act (DMA), 2005, which deals with ‘false alarm or warning as to disaster or its severity or magnitude, leading to panic’, have been applied. However, this section is very specific to disasters but the ambit today of fake news is much beyond that. Section 505(1)(b) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) addresses a wider concept i.e., spreading false and mischievous content that results in ‘fear or alarm to the public, or to any section of the public whereby any person may be induced to commit an offence against the state or against the public tranquility’. Under this law, the convicted can be punished with imprisonment of a maximum of six years and a fine. If we apply Section 54 of DMA together with Section 505(1)(b) of IPC in the current situation of the Covid-19 pandemic then it could possibly deter many.
Misinformation can amplify humanity’s greatest challenges. People may either overreact by hoarding goods or, more dangerously, underreact by deliberately engaging in risky behaviour and inadvertently spreading the virus. Therefore, it is important to better understand why people both believe and share false (and true) information related to COVID-19 and to develop interventions to reduce the spread of misinformation. Misinformation related to the virus is in the form of social media messages related to home remedies that have not been verified and fake advisories. According to the news, some people have also been arrested for spreading fake news about the coronavirus pandemic. On 7 March 2020, our honourable Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, made an appeal to not trust in any rumours related to the pandemic. So, with the number of cases and deaths rising in India, rumours and false news about the virus have also been escalating, with social media platforms being the catalyst. To counteract this, over 400 scientists have concerted their efforts to debunk false information about the virus. Recently, Microblogging site Twitter said it is introducing new labels and warning messages that will provide additional context and information on some tweets containing disputed or misleading information related to COVID-19. Such steps must be taken by all the social media platforms to control and then end this fake news system.
A concentrated war against corona virus has to be fought on multiple fronts. One such most dangerous front is the fake news on the pandemic. So, yes it can be concluded that fake news is even more dangerous than the Covid-19 pandemic itself and this can lead to loss of life too. This is actually a bigger outbreak than corona virus. So, a bit of online self-discipline is urgently required.