This post has been written by Aditi Singh, a first year law student from Hidayatullah National Law University, Raipur
What is Fake? Fake is something that is not original or genuine and when Fake is linked to News it becomes a lethal combination. To understand how lethally a Fake News can destruct something, first we should know what it actually means, so Fake News is a news or an information that is fabricated or is not true. Fake news is an invention – a lie created out of nothing – that takes the appearance of real news with the aim of deceiving people. This is what is important to remember: the information is false, but it seems true. Fake News is like a false rumour but on a large scale. Fake News can be categorized in five categories and they are :-
- Disinformation – falsehoods and rumours knowingly distributed to undermine national security, which can be part of state-sponsored disinformation campaigns;
- Misinformation – falsehoods and rumours propagated as part of a political agenda by a domestic group/the relativisation/differing interpretation of facts based on ideological bias;
- Misinformation – falsehoods and rumours propagated without a broad political aim, either with or without malicious intent that achieves viral status;
- Entertainment – falsehoods used in parody, satire, or seemingly humorous pieces; and
- Falsehoods distributed for financial gain (see here)
REASON BEHIND THE SPREAD OF FAKE NEWS:-
The important aspect other than meaning and types is where, how and why is Fake News spread? The main reasons behind the spread of Fake News are first, the habit of trusting other humans as source of information other than just verifying it, we humans have a tendency to trust someone we feel are more superior in any way or we just trust or do something that is being trusted or done by majority of people – here comes the concept of conformity bias which means our tendency to take cues for proper behaviour in most contexts from the actions of others rather than exercising our own independent judgement. The most common platform in which these kind of Fake News is spread is Youtube where there are various content but only few are verified and reliable, the accuracy of such videos are judged by number of views and not by researching whether the content is reasonable or not. The second reason is to actively (intentionally) mislead people, the most common example to this is some ads where they show some unrealistic results but people are still driven to that product because of the celebrity who endorse it. Last but the most common platform for the spreading of Fake News is social media where anything that catches the attention of masses gets viral irrespective of its validity. The third condition in which we are more likely to trust Fake News is when we are curious about something but there is no matter available about it, the most apt example of this is the time in which we are now, i.e., lockdown, as there is no information available about the cure of Covid-19, that is why we are likely to trust anything that is related to it without even verifying it.
SERIES OF FAKE NEWS IN THE RECENT PAST :-
There were a number of incidents in the recent past which were triggered by Fake News and one of such incidents were the numerous news regarding Article 370, and one of them was after the abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir, a string of fake videos showing widespread protests in the Valley and atrocities on common people by armed forces — several of them emanating from Pakistan – spread like wildfire, these kind of Fake News comes under the anti national type (see here). One more example of such anti–national fake news was the anti CAA (Citizen Amendment Act) protest, under article 19(1)(a) and (b) every citizen of our country has the right of speech and expressions and the right to assemble peacefully and without arms respectively, but these kind of fake news transform such peaceful assemblies into violent protests. There were many fake news published during the time of protests to inflame it.
There is also a financial type of Fake News and the best example of this was the false rumour regarding the financial instability of Yes bank which they also reported to police where they said that some miscreants were spreading false information and malicious rumours on WhatsApp and other social media platforms to create panic among its depositors after promoters sold shares and lenders invoked pledged shares (see here). There is one special type of Fake News that is generally spread during the times of elections not only in India but also internationally. For India we can take account of the 17th Lok Sabha elections that took place last year in which there were a total of 154 cases reported [Notable cases of false information include Facebook posts regarding 20 lakh EVMs gone missing (22), transportation of EVM without security (11) and tweets spreading misinformation about EVMs (84)] (see here)For international we can take account of the news that were majorly spread via Twitter in the US presidential elections (see here).
FAKE NEWS IN THE TIME OF COVID – 19 :-
Now we are going to discuss about the current time of crisis, i.e. , the spread of a incurable virus – Covid – 19. Fake news is travelling much faster than the coronavirus in India. Even before the country reported its first case on 30 January, India’s social media was rife with fake posts, wild rumours, conspiracy theories, doctored videos about the disease’s origin, its subsequent spread and possible remedies. Once the country started reporting more cases, a torrent of fake messages began populating all major social media platforms, particularly Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, TikTok and so on. The WHO warns that societies around the world are facing an “infodemic”—an “overabundance” of information that makes it difficult for people to identify truthful and trustworthy sources from false or misleading ones. Amidst the massive lockdowns and ever-increasing panic, social media is more important than ever. With quarantines in place, Facebook, Twitter, and other services are taking on an entirely new valence as the foundation for our everyday lives. Social media today is a crucial conduit between families, friends, office, and a medium of entertainment. People are glued to their WhatsApp screens hoping for news regarding the coronavirus. This is a perfect setting for the spread of disinformation. Desperate and gullible population waiting for information – it can’t get better. There is an overabundance of information – both correct and incorrect ones making it difficult to identify the right ones from the wrong ones – so much that the WHO has said it was confronting an “infodemic.”(see here)
As a result of these conditions there were a series of Fake news in India like –
- One of the first prominent fake messages was home remedies of Vitamin C warding off the virus. In this regard, several fake videos started circulating in the name of well known doctor Devi Shetty recommending people to take hot water with lemon juice to improve immunity.
- There were millions of fake messages including catchy and appealing videos promoting the miracle power of cow urine, or Gaumutra,to cure the disease began to show up on most prominent social medial platform. Promoted by certain pro-Hindutva organisations, this piece of fake news made many people fall into false beliefs and organise Gaumutra drinking party in their own cities and towns.
- A flood of fake news that depicted an entire community as vector of disease. In the wake of the controversial congregation of Islamic missionary Tablighi Jamaat in mid-March in Delhi’s Nizamuddin leading to a huge spike in positive cases across many parts of India, a number of fake videos began spreading over WhatsApp and other social media platforms depicting the group as “Corona Villains.” Several fake videos were in circulation depicting Tablighi members in quarantine spitting at health workers and deliberately sneezing to spread the infections. This was later on found out to be doctored. More worryingly, a number of fake videos began circulating in Indore and other cities spreading rumours that Muslim youth were being picked up to be injected with COVID-19 positive blood at the quarantine centers. This rumour and consequent stigmatisation of the Tablighi Jamaat led to a series of violent attacks on healthcare professionals in Indore.
- One of the most common Fake News that is being spread almost daily is about transportation of migrant workers which lead them to assemble in large numbers, hence defying the norms of social distancing.
- LAWS RELATED TO FAKE NEWS IN INDIA :-
As the epidemic has already been declared as disaster by the government and notification has been issued by executive orders, spreading any false information about pandemic attracts action under section 188 of Indian Penal code. Spreading rumors to create a panic or false alarm about the severity or magnitude of disaster is also a cognizable offence under section 54 of Disaster Management Act, 2005. With the existing Information Technology Act 2008 proving to be toothless to tackle fake content, the central and state governments have invoked the provisions of (Section 54) of the Disaster Management Act (DMA), 2005 to check the menace. A few states have imposed sedition laws to tackle the problem of fake news and violent attacks and stigmatization of frontline health workers and paramedics. While hundreds of attackers have been arrested and several social media platforms have been issued with warnings, the fake news ecosystem surrounding the virus continue to flourish and significantly impacts the country’s inter-community relations along with its collective efforts against a life-threatening pandemic (see here)
I believe the era in which we live suffers from “Information Disorder”, because with traditional sources of news we have quality assurance, and editorial controls before publication and most of the content was created by professionals, whereas the Internet provides a vast array of services where content can be published and spread by anyone, unlike the traditional process, there are no editorial controls or quality-assurances and that is why we are in dire need of “information hygiene”. We need to understand that we live in a democratic country where every citizen have the right to freedom of speech and expression, though we have certain rules and laws regarding the spread of Fake News but we need to understand that we cannot regulate everything by forming various laws or else we will end up like China or north Korea where the government has the final say on everything and the citizens there does not have much freedom. Despite of the presence of various laws, I think the most effective way to curb Fake News is by being aware, by not sharing anything that is unverified, by understanding the responsibility of a good member of the society and by purely reporting anything that you know is not genuine. Fake News is like termite to our society, it will slowly make our society hollow, if not avoided.