18 March 2023: The forecast after a fake news campaign in Tamil Nadu

Context: An online disinformation campaign led to law and order issues. Over a period of four days, there was a continuous narrative about migrant workers from Bihar being subjected to violence in Tamil Nadu. Also, video clips can be shared showing migrant workers leaving Tamil Nadu due to incidents of violence. In response to this, the Tamil Nadu police clarified that these video clips were both false and mischievous.

About fake news:

  • Disinformation is false information spread to deceive people.
  • The propagation of fake news is one of the biggest threats to democracy during an election season when most information is likely to be consumed through social media sources.
  • It is apparent that disinformation campaigns have the potential to unfairly manipulate social and political outcomes.
  • Fake news confuses people as its authenticity is questioned when shared on social media.

Overseas measures regarding disinformation: 

Many countries felt the need to have robust responses in place to disinformation.

  1. The European Union has established a Code of Conduct for Disinformation 2022.
    • It includes-
      • Empowerment of fact-checkers
      • Transparency in political advertising
      • Measures to reduce manipulative behaviour.
  2. The United Kingdom proposed the Online Safety Bill,” which will expect social media platforms( intermediaries) to monitor problematic content actively.

Impact of fake news

  1. Minorities are easily targeted by fake information and cause violence and riots among themselves.
  2. Sometimes, to control the rumours on social media, governments practice blanket internet bans, which have a negative impact on people’s rights.
  3. Disinformation campaigns during election time could lead to social discord.
  4. It may be used to spread extremist ideologies and affect the law and order situation in the country.

India’s stand on disinformation

  • India has only employed knee-jerk measures like Internet shutdowns; this response is overly simplistic, non-transparent, and autocratic.
  • More comprehensive legislative action is required if there is to be a balance between allowing free speech under Article 19 and protecting citizens from falling prey to malicious disinformation.
  • As per the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Tehseen Poonawalla vs. UOI case, the Court held that it is the government’s duty to take steps to reduce the dissemination of disinformation.
  • As per Section 69A of the Information Technology Act 2000, the government of India can block access to any information online that it considers necessary in the interest of the sovereignty and security of our country.
  • Recent IT rules for 2021 also empower the PIB( Press Information Bureau) to flag false and fake news related to government bodies on social media platforms, which amounts to disinformation.

Challenges in controlling disinformation

  1. There is no standard definition of fake news.”
  2. No correct balance is maintained between the right to free speech and expression and the spread of fake information.
  3. No strict implementation of laws

Way forward- 

  1. Any regulation should target fake information and not target the whole media under the name of controlling fake news.
  2. Awareness must be spread among people.
  3. The government can also open authentic sources on social media to disseminate the information.
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