Unlimited internet services have made social media an easy medium to gather news and be updated. However, it has made online platforms equally susceptible to misinformation, misuse, and fake news. With every forward of the fake news, the risk of outrage in public and misguide the truth rises. Photos, audio, videos, and memes are spread quickly through various social media platforms like Whatsapp, Facebook, Messenger, etc.
When COVID-19 is at its peak, we witness various false messages circulating of Do’s and Don’t’s. One such fake message was “avoiding consumption of ice-creams and fast food helps to prevent the virus”. UNICEF alerted people to check reliable sources before believing because misinformation might spark fear and paranoia. “We’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the head of the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The point is readers believe the forwarded contents without cross-checking them. This often leads to hateful mindsets.”False allegations, which people often believe, will lead them to have wrong notions about the person. Additionally, it also harms the alleged person, as it lowers self-esteem and pressure”, says Pritha, a student from West Bengal.
But, on the other hand, many countries have formed new laws to prevent the outburst of fake news. They have provisions for imprisonment as well as heavy fines or both.
India on fake news
Information Technology Act, 2000
The law primarily deals with cybercrime and electronic commerce. Section 69 deals with the power of direction for interception or monitoring or decryption of any information through any computer resource. The person-in-charge of the computer resource shall, when called upon by any agency directed under Section 69 (1), extend all facilities and technical assistance to decrypt the information. There is provision of imprisonment for a term which may extend up to seven years.
Gauba Committee Report
Gauba Committee, headed by the home secretary of India, Rajiv Gauba, reported to the government on menacing instances of fake news leading to cases of lynching and came up with a recommendation. The report recommended that the country heads of the platforms should be punished if their platforms are used to propagate fake news or campaigns.
The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY) released a draft called Information Technology Intermediaries Guidelines (Amendment), 2018, and released recommendations on its website in Dec 2018 for public comments. The recommendation had suggested changes to the 2000 IT Act that would require social media platforms to start tracing the originators of messages when compelled by the government.
Australia on fake news
The (Australian Electoral Commission) AEC in April -2019 started a campaign ‘Stop and Consider’. The aim of the campaign was to alert voters of false information trending on social media. The AEC is reported to have sought to establish protocols for social media companies to address advertising on their platforms that contravene Australia’s electoral laws (such as those relating to authorization).
Europe on fake news
It was in 2018, the European Commission set up a high-level group of experts (HLEG) to provide advice on how to counter fake news and online disinformation.
“The key recommendations of the HLEG report were that multiple stakeholders collaborate to ensure digital media companies are more transparent regarding news production and distribution; developing tools for empowering and educating public and professional users of platforms; and strategically implementing large-scale media and information literacy programs across schools, industry sectors and communities”, it continues.
Singapore on fake news
Singapore, in May 2019 passed a law criminalizing the spread of false information online. The law, which passed with 72-9 in Singapore’s parliament, makes it illegal to spread “false statements of fact” in Singapore that compromise security, “public tranquillity,” public safety and the country’s relations with other nations, Techcrunch reported. The law punishes people who post false information with heavy fines and even jail time, reports Organization Poynter.
Sri Lanka on fake news
Sri Lanka expanded its anti-misinformation efforts by announcing a series of revisions to the penal code in June 2019. Ada Derana reported that the Cabinet of Ministers was revising the code to allow for the prosecution of people that spread false statements or hate speech that “hinder the peace among communities and national security.” The law has the provision to charge a fine of up to $5,667 or a prison sentence of up to five years, reported Poynter.
As a responsible citizen, it becomes important to check twice before forwarding any news or image. “Double check the messages which are related to your ideology. Try to check the truth of such messages often. Things that are a little difficult to believe are often false”, suggests the messaging app, WhatsApp.