Circulation of Fake News and Laws related to it in India
In present times, there is an increase in the spread of fake news in our country. Conventional types of media and news coverage are yet present; notwithstanding internet-based information and computerized media, stages are progressively being used in substitution of the old structure. The Guardian columnist Natalie Nougayrede on this note had said as follows: “The use of propaganda is ancient, but never before has there been the technology to so effectively disseminate it.” While the world is attempting to get to grasps with coronavirus (Covid-19), social media is dealing with another pandemic i.e. circulation of fake news.
IMPACT OF FAKE NEWS
There are all sorts of misleading posts ranging from the data about the coronavirus to incorrect news about its source and increase and even about the cure. The recent news of forest fires in Uttarakhand isn’t remotely as serious as online posts have been overflowed with pictures demonstrating patches of forest on fire, erroneously professed to be from Uttarakhand. The old images were posted claiming it to be recent ones. Another false news was the controversial boys' locker room case in which the screenshots of objectionable comments about girls became viral and received hatred all over the social media. Later, it was found that a girl had made a fake Snapchat account in the name of the boy to test the qualities and character of her other male friends.
India has become a home for the extensive spread of false news. The damage caused due to fake news on social media has increased due to the growth of internet penetration in India, which has risen from 137 million internet users in 2012 to over 600 million in 2019 . Whatsapp has its maximum users from India over 340 million. Social media platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter, etc. are a source of the spread of fake videos, images causing misleading information and even hatred among the people. Another fresh controversy on the account of Tablighi Jamaat, an Islamic missionary movement around mid-March in Delhi's Nizamuddin prompting a colossal spike in positive cases across various places of India, various false recordings started spreading over WhatsApp and other platforms on social media portraying the Jamaatis as criminals of the country. This sparks communal pressures, instances of animosity and negative generalizing of people, and specific communities. It has made it hard for India to fight with the Covid-19 pandemic. Indians have a habituated inclination to forward messages on WhatsApp without checking the source.
There have been data on home solutions for virus-containing paranoid notions being passed around. As a result, a rancher in Karnataka covered more than 6,000 chickens alive because of uncontrolled gossipy tidbits about the spread of the infection because of eating meat. Numerous individuals, who have imparted about drinking cow pee as a solution to cure the virus, have been scrutinized later. If fake news is tolerated and becomes commonplace, there would be grave consequences for public attitudes, democratic processes, and the conduct of public life. 
LAWS CONCERNING THE ISSUE OF FAKE NEWS
Law implementation organizations, on their part, need to make a move against persons spreading such false content. There are provisions for punishment against the spread of fake news. The Indian Penal Code,1860 addresses an extensive picture regarding spreading fake news that outcomes in dread or caution to the general public which can make any individual to be influenced and initiate an offense against the State or harm the public peace. Under this law, the person can be sentenced with the detainment of a limit of six years and a fine. The court in the case of State v. Sachin Kumar Srivastava held that “to prove the charge of an offence punishable under Section 505(1)(b) IPC, the prosecution has to prove beyond reasonable doubts that the accused had made any made, published, or circulating any rumor statement or report to cause or having knowledge that it was likely to cause fear or alarm to the public or any section of the public and that by such statement rumor or report any person might be induced to commit an offence against the State or the public tranquility.”
The Disaster Management Act, 2005 has a provision which says that “Whoever makes or circulates a false alarm or warning as to disaster or its severity or magnitude, leading to panic, shall on conviction, be punishable with imprisonment which may extend to one year or with fine.”  The application of Section 54 of the Disaster Management Act along with Section 505(1)(b) of IPC in the present situation of the Covid-19 emergency could stop many. In November 2019, the Indian ministry of information and broadcasting planned to set up a FACT checking module to counter the circulation of fake news by continuous monitoring of online news sources and publicly visible social media posts.
But the requirement for legitimate provision in the Information Technology Act, 2000 is more urgent now than any other time. The current legal arrangements do oblige punishing production of fake news and the malignant dispersion thereof, yet without any assigned enactment which empowers for the immediate expulsion of such news once it has been distributed. On 20 March 2020, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology gave the warning to check fake news on coronavirus to all the internet-based platforms. The advisory directs them to immediately eliminate any sort of misinformation or false data posted on their platform and also encourage awareness campaigns against the distribution of such false news. The truth of the matter is that countless individuals regularly just forward whatever they get on their gadgets. The lawful ramifications of this act are frequently not comprehended by the people who accept that whatever comes through their gadgets must be valid and significant. This requires serious attention, in which the IT Act should start to lead the pack.
With the current situation of lockdown due to pandemic, the best way to know and be associated is online. These social media platforms being abused extraordinarily with no legitimate justice system in place. The aim should be to ensure and protect citizens and the country from the brutality and disturbances coming about because of fake news. The moves of sanctioning enactment must be taken cautiously and with due consideration so as not to smother the freedom of speech and expression i.e. ensured by the Constitution.
To summarize, India has been at the same time combating two infections; one genuine and the other being the false one however similarly deadly. Fake news and has made various obstacles for governments at all levels in their battle against the pandemic. The way to battle the spread of fake news is to guarantee that all the significant people are cooperating to handle the issue-media houses, newspapers, IT companies, the legislature, and other social media platforms. A solid expert reporting and attentiveness among youngsters, grown-ups, and citizens is the best method to guarantee the stoppage of the flow of these fake news. Therefore, there is a need for laws specifically dealing with the spread of fake news. An amendment in the IT Act, 2000 is required for more stringent laws regarding the circulation of tampered content and misinformation. A balance needs to be drawn between the freedom of speech and expression and such circulation of false content to prevent the hampering of society.
1. N. Nougayrede, In this age of propaganda, we must defend ourselves. Here’s how, THE GUARDIAN, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jan/31/propaganda-defend-russia-technology, Accessed on 17th June 2020.
2. Mohan, Shriya (26 April 2019). "Everybody needs a good lie". Business Line.
3. https://www.loc.gov/law/help/fake-news/uk.php Accessed on 17th June 2020.
4. Section 505(1)(b) of The Indian Penal Code,1860.
5. State v. Sachin Kumar Srivastava, FIR No. 167/2011 PS: Kotwali U/s 505(1)(b)/507 IPC
6. Section 54 of The Disaster Management Act, 2005.
7.https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/ib-team-to-counter-fake-news/articleshow/72079340.cms?from=mdr Accessed on 17th June 2020
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
This blog has been authored by Divya Vishal who is a 4th Year B.A., LL.B. (Hons.) student at National University of Study and Research in Law, Ranchi.
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