• The Law Gazette

Fake News: A Menace

The term Fake news in layman language refers to misinformation or disinformation, which means, inaccurate information, with a deliberate intention to deceive. Fake news is normally spread by mouth; however, currently traditional media has become the most popular mode of dissemination. These reports spread like wildfire, causing uncertainty in the minds of people, with respect to the authenticity of such information. The circulation of fake news has been mushrooming from the time social media platforms became widely acknowledged. People began to view it as a floor for propaganda, soon this developed into a wont that many began replicating. Sadly, in no time, the broadcast of fake news germinated. These hit peaks of exaggeration and disapproval, leaving the public agitated, agnostic and distrustful of original news reports and statements.


With the skyrocketing of fake news, and a sharp decline in the circulation of valid/accurate news, we see a fundamental transformation in the spread of misleading information. Citizens tend to derive their piece of information from social networking sites, rather than credible sources. Generally, such information is passed with a malicious intent of influencing people’s views and manipulating them into arriving at shrewd conclusions, nothing short of fallacies. Crafty methods are adopted for the dissemination of information through social media platforms such as threats, warnings etc. making the cyberspace an unsafe place. The fake news catastrophe is at its peak in India, due to the lack of stringent cyber laws. In comparison to many other countries, Indians are to be susceptible to hoaxes and disinformation campaigns.


CAUSES AND EFFECTS

Internet and Social Media

With the commencement of mass communication, people initially received authentic information from trusted/reliable sources. The sudden shake-out of fake news has a had a imperilling effect on the people of India, causing a disruptive imbalance in the flow of information. Netizens have become victims due to their active participation and engagement in the internet, specially, social media. These networking sites play a major, yet vicious role in increasing the reach of fake news. Their treacherous ways of spreading disinformation, has been made easier by people who share news with zero credibility in them.

Lack of strict regulations

No codes of practice for social media is being followed. Unfortunately, the internet has enabled malicious ways to publish, consume and share information, that has hugely impacted public opinion, ultimately jeopardising people’s right to credible information. As false news dissemination has become a part and parcel of our lives, it now appears to be an operation carried out by organised bodies, that are politically motivated. This advocates the existence of a stratified political organisation of fake news.

Economical

Economic development has taken a backseat due to a sudden surge in fake news. These misleading pieces of information affect business and consumer confidence in products and companies. Such factually inaccurate stories maybe deliberately published with an ulterior motive of duping viewers with partially true information. In such a scenario, all become stakeholders, with the endangerment of their livelihood. An imbalance in the production and consumption sectors of this system increases.

Social

The spread of distasteful news can tamper with religion, giving it a communal angle, targeted at hurting religious sentiments of people, hence creating enmity and hatred between communities. This becomes a serious bone of contention between persons belonging to various religious backgrounds. Gradually, people begin promulgating sacrilegious or blasphemous opinions, defaming each other’s religion.

Political

Fake news is also being used as an electronic weapon by countries to target other countries, igniting abhorrence in the minds of these political leaders against each other, in order to bring about their respective desired changes. As a result, people have lost faith in the media, which could directly impede the ethos/spirit of democracy. False news promotes implausible journalism and advocates for the indoctrination of social/political beliefs.


PRESCRIBED PUNISHMENT

There are no clear-cut laws regarding fake news in India, nonetheless, there are certain provisions under the Information Technology Act (IT Act), the Indian Penal Code (IPC), and the Disaster Management Act which deals with this menace and prescribes punishment to a certain extent.


Section 66D of Information Technology Act- “Whoever, by means for any communication device or computer resources cheats by personating shall be punished with the imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine which may extend to one lakh rupees”1

Section 54 of the Disaster Management Act- “Whoever makes or circulates a false alarm or warning as to disaster or its severity or magnitude, leading to panic shall be punished with the imprisonment which may extend to one year or with fine”.

Section 505(1) of Indian Penal Code, 1860- “Whoever by making, publishing or circulating any statement, rumor or report which may cause fear for an alarm to the public, or to any section of the public shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to three years, or with fine or with both”.

Section 153 of Indian Penal Code- “Whoever malignantly, or wantonly, by doing anything illegal, gives provocation to any person intending or knowing it to be likely that such provocation will cause the offense of rioting to be committed, shall, if the offense of rioting be committed in consequence of such provocation be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both; and if the offense of rioting be not committed, with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine, or with both”.

Section 499 and 500 of Indian Penal Code- “ Whoever, by words either spoken or intended to be read, or by signs or by visible representations, makes or publishes any imputation concerning any person intending to harm, or knowing or having reason to believe that such imputation will harm, the reputation of such person is said, except in the case hereinafter expected, to defame that person” and “Whoever defames another shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine or with both”.


EXAMPLES OF FAKE NEWS

Journalists are the miscreants of fake news and they are the root cause. They claim to present noteworthy information based on "facts", but what they do is peddle a narrative according to half information that they'd like to present. Let this be loud and clear, every news portal has a hidden agenda. If you are smart about it, then you will realize that it is propaganda.


Let's take Faye D'Souza for example. This 'reliable' journalist has been busted for peddling fake news repeatedly.

Back in 2017, she reached a new low when she gave a "sexual assault" angle in a child's murder case (Ryan International School, Gurugram). While it was still a theory that needed to be investigated, she decided to sensationalize the matter by tweeting the following:

#Pradyuman murder: Class 11 student to be produced before Juvenile Justice Board. Motive: teenager wanted to sexually assault Pradyuman.

— Faye DSouza (@fayedsouza) November 8, 2017.

It was far from the truth and it only shows how irresponsible journalists have become. Apart from this, communal angles have been given to so many issues when it wasn't the case. It only drives a wedge further and creates unrest. Misguided and unethical journalism has time and again resulted in chaos. Another instance of a fake media report being peddled - Villagers in Arunachal Pradesh near the China border were fleeing, during the tensions between India and China along the LAC. A clarification from the Ministry of Defence was issued amidst the stand-off.


In addition to this, during the ongoing pandemic, a substantial portion of fake news during the initial phase was circulated on a variety of issues such as lockdown guidelines, fake diagnosis and treatment and falsified quotes by celebrities with their photos, false notifications amidst other. The growing menace of fake news prompted PM Narendra Modi to address the same in the NAM Summit.


CONCLUSION

India has always been battling the war against the spread of fake news, which has never ceased to exist cohesively. This lethal weapon has created numerous hurdles for both the Central and State governments, at all levels. The government must combat this menace by curbing disinformation on media intermediaries. Efforts by the Ministry must be made to break the breeding ground for fake news, such as WhatsApp, Facebook etc.


Political parties and social media organizations must be held accountable for the dissemination of fake news, by desisting from giving patronage to these disinformation hubs. With privacy invasions and cyber security concerns, some of the most efficacious ways to restrict the flow of disinformation caused by the ‘infodemic’ could be verification and fact-checking of data. Thus, controlling fake news could be a convoluted task, as, if left uncontrolled, it might lead to national/international instability.


ENDNOTES

1. Harinie.S, 'Laws regarding fake news in India”,LexLife India, 28 May 2020, https://LexLife.in/2020/05/28/law-regarding-fake-news-in-india/

2. Shalini Ojha, 'SC denies bail to teen who murdered Ryan school student', News Bytes, 03 September 2020, https://www.newsbytesapp.com/timeline/India/65513/308845/ryan-school-murder-sc-denies-bail-to-teen

3. Op India, 'Media reports of villages in Arunachal Pradesh near China border being vacated are false, Defence Ministry', 10 September 2020, https:// www.opindia.com/2020/09/defence-ministry-rejects-report-claiming-arunachal-pradesh-villages-vacating-tensions-ladakh-china-india/


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

This blog has been authored by Anusha Sushena & Harshitha Jayavel, both 3rd Year B.A., LL.B. (Hons.) students at M.S. Ramaiah College of Law, Bangalore.


[PUBLICATION NO. TLG_BLOG_20_123_04]