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Fake News: Meaning |Role | Applicable Laws | Identify | Report | Landmark Judgements

 > Anticipatory Bail & Regular Bail  > Fake News: Meaning |Role | Applicable Laws | Identify | Report | Landmark Judgements

Fake News: Meaning |Role | Applicable Laws | Identify | Report | Landmark Judgements

With the growth of internet users as well as social media users, the growth of vulnerability of the users towards the trap of fake news also parallelly increasing. Palghar mob lynching (2020), Anti-CAA riots (2020) and COVID fake news are epic examples that show how much brutal and grave or monstrous fake news can turn into be. Therefore, an attempt is made to enlighten the public about the fake news, its monstrous role, laws applicable, how to identify fake news and how to report fake news.

What is a fake news?
Fake news is disinformation and misinformation which is being disseminated in the guise of reporting by the miscreants for tarnishing the reputation of a person or institution or provoke violence for political or financial gain. Fake news is being used as a weapon or instrument by rivals to satisfy their enmity or ambition. ‘Fake news’ not defined in any laws for the time in force in India. Fake news can be disseminated through image/photo, videos, textual posts, URLs, E-mail, social media app and other digital platforms.

As per Statista, India has the second-largest social network with 349.97 million users, after China with 926.84 million users. Facebook is a social networking website that has the largest number of users worldwide i.e., 2740 million users in 2021, as compared to other social networks. In 2021, India is the largest market of Facebook and WhatsApp with 320 million users and 390.1 million users, respectively. These users are rapidly increasing every. As social networks users, as well as internet penetration, are increasing, their vulnerability from fake news is also simultaneously increasing. There are innumerable incidents where fake news causes brutal mob lynching. According to Digital Civility Index 2021 published by Microsoft, hoaxes, scams & frauds increased by 5% since 2017. The Atlantic published an article about the current state of fake news in India. The article describes that India in the war of information which of unprecedented nature and scale. Source of fake news is within India unlike in the U.S. where most of the fake news source is international.
Examples:

  1. COVID Vaccine Fake News (2021)
    In the rural areas of India, fake news was spread that vaccination cause death, sickness, impotency, infertility, etc. Due to which people in the rural areas were hesitating or reluctant to get vaccinated. In the Ujjain district of Madhya Pradesh, people attacked health workers with stones and lathi when health workers went there to vaccinate people. Similar incidents were taking place in all the states of the country. Many people were also arrested thereof. The Hon’ble Supreme Court in the case of Alakh Alok Srivastava v. Union of India [W. P. (Civ.) No. 468/2020] while hearing the petition for migrant labours, observed that panic among labours was being triggered by the fake news that lockdown would continue for more than three months which led to the migration of labours due to which many labours lost their lives and have to face a lot of struggles like pregnant women have to deliver on the road and have to walk further on foot. Therefore, the Hon’ble Court directed the government to book the person who is circulating fake news regarding the severity or magnitude of the COVID under section 54 of the Disaster Management Act (DM), 2005 which lays down provision for punishment up to one year or with fine in case of violation.
  2. Palghar Mob Lynching Fake News (2020)
    Fake news of children being kidnapped and thereafter their organs were sold, was being spread through various social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram etc. This created state of terror in the mind of the people due to which a lot of mob lynching took place just on suspicion. According to the IndiaSpend analysis (2018), between January 1, 2017, and July 5, 2018, 69 reported cases of mob lynching occurred due to which 33 victims were killed and 99 were injured. The mob lynching triggered by such rumour took place in most of the states of India i.e., Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Bengal, Assam, Tripura, and Telangana. The deadliest mob lynching took place in Jharkhand and Maharashtra in which 7 and 5 people were killed, respectively. The maximum number of mob lynching triggered by such rumour occurred in Odisha i.e., 15. 181 people were apprehended by the Police. According to the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB), there was no unusual increase in the case of child kidnapping which is contrary to the information furnished by the source of the fake news and further strengthens the belief that news regarding child lifting was fake. Similarly, on April 16, 2020, a very infamous incident of mob lynching triggered by a child kidnapping rumour took place in Palghar district, Maharashtra. Two seer sadhus along with a driver were going from Kandivali (Mumbai) to Gujarat to attend the funeral. During their journey, they decided to take an inner route which passes through the Palghar district. So, when they entered Gadchinchale village in Palghar district, the vigilante group of the village stopped them on the suspicion of them being child-lifters. Later, started beating them. Initially, police tried to protect them but seeing the anger of the mob, they handed two sadhus and a driver to the mob to kill. On April 19, 2020, a video of this incident went viral. Another fake news started to spread those Hindu sadhus were attacked by Muslims out of communal enmity. Later, Maharashtra Chief Minister, Uddhav Thackeray, unveiled the fake news. 18 policemen were punished in the departmental inquiry. On June 10, 2021, the Hon’ble Supreme Court directed the Central Bureau of Investigation (C. B. I.) inquiry.
  3. Anti-CAA Riots (2020)
    On December 11, 2019, the Parliament passed the Citizenship (Amendment) Act [CAA], 2019 to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955 which has a provision that allows people of Hinduism, Sikhism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Jainism and Buddhism in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan to get citizenship of India. However, fake news was surfaced that Muslims of India will be thrown out of India which led to the aggravation of tension among Muslims. Besides, this various other fake news and provocation speeches were shared across various social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook etc. Thereafter, violence erupted in various states in the country such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Delhi etc. But on February 23, 2020, brutal riot took place in North-East Delhi. Many houses, shops, petrol pumps were blazed. There was heavy stone-pelting, gunshots and petrol bombs. There were 53 deaths including 1 Intelligence Official and 2 Delhi Police personnel.
  4. Salt Fake News (2016)
    On the evening of November 11, 2016, Fake news was being spread among people of Delhi and Uttar Pradesh that stocks of salt are finished in India and salt rate would increase to Rs. 250 per Kg or Rs. 400 per Kg. This triggered panic among people and they rushed to the grocery shop to buy salts. Some people even started hoarding salt. On that day, people were buying salt of Rs. 15 at the increased price of Rs. 100 to Rs. 200. In Delhi, people even started to protest against increased price by carrying out the march from Jasola to Shaheen Bagh. While marching, they got into a fight with a bus driver. Later section 144 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860 was invoked in that area. In Kanpur, a woman died while she was rushing to buy salt and unfortunately slipped into a drain and died immediately.
  5. Muzaffarnagar Riot (2013)
    On September 8, 2013, the riot broke out between Hindu and Muslim in Muzaffarnagar which was the most brutal riot in the last decade. The cause for the riot is still uncertain. There are two reasons for the riot. First, Shahnawaz eve-teased the jat girl and in retaliation brothers of the girl named Sanjay Singh and Gaurav Singh went to the place of the Shahnawaz and killed him with a knife. Hours later, both brothers of the girl were killed by the local people near Shahnawaz’s house. Second, there was a trivial bike accident which led to a fight between the girl’s brother and Shahnawaz. Later, the brothers went to the place of the Shahnawaz and killed him. Hours later, both brothers of the girl were killed by the local people near Shahnawaz’s house. However, in the F. I. R. no incident of eve-teasing is mentioned and the incident of an accident is mentioned. Thereafter, a video went viral in which men were brutally murdered and that video was said to be of that village in which Muslims murdered the aforementioned brothers. Seeing the aggravating condition of the villages, Muslims started to flee to Madarsa and to the Muslim majority villages such as Kandla. On September 7, 2013, Mahapanchayat was called for conciliation but the condition aggravated there. Later, on September 8, 2013 people’s nightmare turned into reality. Later, Inspector General of Police (Law and Order) R K Vishwakarma clarified that the video that went viral on August 29, 2013, was a fake video and the video belongs to Pakistan or Afghanistan. The video was also removed from the internet by the Government. As per the news report, many women were raped, house and vehicles were set on fire, more than 62 people were killed and more than 10,000 people fled the riot-hit villages and took refuge in Madarsa and other villages. The case is still pending in the lower court.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court while hearing the case of Tehseen S. Poonawalla v. Union of India [W. P. (C) No. 122/ 2017] observed that the cow vigilante group, self-proclaimed protector of cow, were committing mob lynching on being influenced by the fake news and provocation. Therefore, the Hon’ble Court laid down guidelines in which it stated that a Nodal Officer should be appointed in each district. Such Nodal Officer shall not be below the rank of Superintendent of Police and he is empowered to constitute a task force to procure intelligence reports about people who are likely to commit any offence or may apprehend any person who is spreading or abetting to spread hate speeches, provocative statements and fake news. The Hon’ble Court has also laid guidelines for Remedial measures and punitive measures.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court while hearing the case of Kodungallur Film Society and Ans. v. Union of India and Ors. [W. P. (C) No. 330/ 2018] in which vigilante group on being influenced by fake news that their historical queen Padmavati is being wrongly portrayed in the movie. Thereafter, such vigilante group thrashed the director of the movie Padmavati. Lot of violence, agitation, bandhis and hartal took place. Many theatres were set on fire and thousands of rupees awards were announced for the person who will cut the head of the actress playing the role of Padmavati. Hence, the Hon’ble court added more guidelines to the guidelines laid down in the case of Tehseen S. Poonawalla v. Union of India [W. P. (C) No. 122/ 2017]. In additional guidelines are focused to safeguard cultural establishments and property from mob violence due to instigation or fake news.

Laws Prohibiting Fake News in India
No special law legislated by the parliament to prohibit the circulation of fake news. The Legislature through section 66 A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 tried to prohibit or control fake news. Section 66A of the Information Technology Act (I.T.), 2000 lays down the punishment of imprisonment for a term which may extend to the 3 years and with fine, for those who by means of a computer resource or any communication device intentionally sends any information to another person, despite knowing that such information is false, to cause inconvenience, obstruction, criminal intimidation, hatred, enmity, ill-will, danger or annoyance. But in the case of Shreya Singhal v. Union of India (Cri. W. P. No. 196/ 2014), the Hon’ble Supreme Court repealed section 66A of the Information Technology Act (I.T.), 2000 on the grounds of vagueness and chilling effect as it unreasonably restricts the enjoyment of freedom of speech and expression enshrined under Article 19(a) of the Constitution of India, 1950.

Information Technology Act (I.T.), 2000
a. Section 66D: Any person who by means of computer resource or any communication device cheats by personation shall be punished with imprisonment upto 3 years and with fine upto Rs. 1 Lakh.

b. Section 69A: The Central Government or any officers of the central government specially authorised in this behalf may, after recording reason in writing, order or direct any agency of the government or intermediary to block access by the public or cause to be blocked for access by the public any information generated, transmitted, received, stored or hosted in any computer resource. Any person who fails to comply with the order or direction shall be punished with imprisonment upto 7 years and with fine.

Indian Penal Code (I. P. C.), 1860
a. Section 124A: Any person who by visible representation or by means of words, either spoken or written, or otherwise brings or attempts to bring into contempt or hatred or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government of India, shall be punished with imprisonment for life or upto 3 years and may be with fine.

b. Section 153A: Any person by means-
i. by visible representations or by signs or by words, either spoken or written, or otherwise, promotes or attempts to promote, on grounds of race, religion, place of birth, residence, language, community or caste or any other ground whatsoever, disharmony or feelings of hatred, enmity, or ill-will between different racial, religious, regional groups or language or communities or castes, or
ii. commits any act which is deleterious to the maintenance of peace between different racial, religious, language or castes or regional groups or communities, and which disturbs or is likely to disturb the public tranquillity, or
iii. organizes any movement, exercise, drill or other similar activity intending that the participants in such activity shall use or be trained to use violence or criminal force or knowing it to be likely that the participants in such activity will use or be trained to use violence or criminal force, or participates in such activity intending to use or be trained to violence or use criminal force or having knowledge that it would likely that the participants in such activity will use or be trained to use criminal force or violence, against any language, religious, racial, or community regional group or caste and such activity for any reason whatsoever causes or is likely to cause alarm or fear or a feeling of insecurity amongst members of such religious, language, racial or regional group or community or caste, shall be punished with imprisonment upto three years, or with fine, or with both.

c. Section 295A: Any person with mala fide intention to outrage the religious sentiments of any class of citizens of India by visual representation or by words, either spoken or written, or otherwise to insult or attempt to insult the religion or religious belief, shall be punished with imprisonment upto 3 years or with fine or both.

d. Section 503: Any person who threatens another person with any injury to reputation, property with the intention to warn or to influence that person to do any act which is illegal, or omit to do any act which he is legally bound to do, to avoid the threat posed by such person.

e. Section 504: Whoever insult any person intentionally or with the knowledge that such person would thereby provoke him to break public tranquillity, or to commit any other offence, shall be punishable with imprisonment up to 2 years or with fine or both.

f. Section 505: Any person who publishes, circulates or makes any rumour, report or statement with the intention or with the knowledge to cause
i. Any soldier, officer, airman or sailor in the Army, Air or Navy force of India to mutiny or otherwise disregard or fail in his duty as such; or
ii. alarm or fear to the public, or to any section of the public whereby any person may be influenced to commit an offence against the State or against the public peace; or
iii. any community or class of persons to commit any offence against any other community or class,
shall be punished with imprisonment upto 3 years, or with fine, or with both.

How to Identify a Fake News in India?
As fake news is being disseminated in large volume, it is high time to learn how to identify fake news. So, the following are the ways in which we can identify fake news:

  1. Any message received by the user, without a link, which is extraordinarily praising or insulting someone or something, chance are that they may be fake or it may be also part of any propaganda campaign.
  2. Search the keywords of the message received in Google and verify the news from the trusted source in Google.
  3. To verify any image or photo, upload that photo to www.ctrlq.com or www.image.google.com. This process is called Reverse Search.
  4. Properly check the name of the website where you are going to read the article. There are many spoof websites such as WWW.BBCNEWSPOINT.COM, WWW.DAINIKBHARAT.ORG, WWW.NEWSROOMPOST.COM, WWW.JAGRUKBHARAT.COM etc.
  5. Check your bias. Sometimes your hatred or affection towards someone or something may forbid you to see the truth and give an opportunity to another person to take advantage of this.
  6. Do not trust blindly whatever account with blue tick posts.
  7. If any sent to has double forwarded arrows, then there are high chances that that message is fake. The forward arrow also helps to determine that message is not written by the sender to you and is forwarded by the sender.
  8. Check the name of the author of the article on Google.
  9. Read beyond the headline because sometimes publishers use sensational headlines to get more and more clicks.
  10. Check whether the message sent to you is a joke or not.
  11. Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPRD) is a think tank under the Ministry of Home Affairs. Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPRD) has published the report which will step by step assist police to identify fake news and also enlisted link to the websites for fact-checking:
    a. www.pib.gov.in
    b. www.factcheck.org
    c. www.reporterslab.org
    d. www.factly.in/category/fake-news/
    e. www.boomlive.in/about-us/
    f. www.factcheck.telangana.gov.in/
    g. www.altnews.in/
    h. www.metadata2go.com/
    i. www.thequit.com/news/webqoof
    j. India Today – AntiFake News War Room (AFWA)
    k. Times of India – Times Fact Check
    l. The Hindu – Fact Check
  12. Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPRD) has enlisted names of following website to report fake new:
    a. www.cybercrime.gov.in/
    b. www.pib.gov.in/factcheck.aspx
    c. www.factcheck.org
    d. www.boomlive.in/about-us/
    e. www.factcheck.telangana.gov.in/
    f. www.altnews.in/
  13. Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPRD) has enlisted the names of the following website to investigate fake news in social media:
    a. www.lookup-id.com/
    b. www.stalkscan.com/
    c. www.citizenevidence.amnestyusa.org/
    d. www.youtube.github.io/geo-search-tool/search.html
    e. www.twitter.com/search-advanced
    f. www.facebook.com/altnews.in
    g. www.twitter.com/AltNews

How to Report Fake News in India
Following is the procedure to be followed in the social media platforms, hereinbelow, to report any fake news:

  1. WhatsApp Messenger
    Procedure to Report Fake News on Whats App Messenger:
    a. Go to the inbox of the person or group where fake news is sent.
    b. Click on the three linear dots on the top-right corner.
    c. Drop down menu will be displayed.
    d. Click on the ‘More’ option.
    e. Another menu will be displayed.
    f. Click on the first option ‘Report’.
    g. Dialog box will pop up on the screen.
    h. Click on the ‘Report’ button on the dialog box.
  2. Facebook
    Procedure to Report Fake News on Facebook:
    a. Click on the three linear dots on the top-right corner of the post which is fake news.
    b. Drop down menu will be displayed.
    c. Click on the option ‘Find support or report post’.
    d. New Menu will be displayed with title ‘Please select a problem’.
    e. Click on the option ‘False information’
    f. New Menu will be displayed with title ‘What kind of false information?’
    g. Click on the appropriate answer accordingly.
    h. Click on the ‘Submit’ button on the new screen.
  3. Instagram
    Procedure to Report Fake News on Instagram:
    a. Click on the three linear dots on the top-right corner of the post which is fake news.
    b. Menu will pop up.
    c. Click on the ‘Report’ button.
    d. New Menu will be displayed with title ‘Why are you reporting this post?’.
    e. Click on the option ‘False information’ or any other option which more appropriate.
    f. New Menu will be displayed with title ‘Why are you reporting this post?’.
    g. Click on the appropriate answer accordingly.
    h. Click on the ‘Submit Report’ button.
  4. Twitter
    Procedure to Report Fake News on Twitter:
    a. Click on the three linear dots on the top-right corner of the post which is fake news.
    b. Menu will pop up.
    c. Click on the ‘Report Tweet’ button.
    d. New Menu will be displayed with title ‘Help us to understand the problem. What is going on with this tweet’.
    e. Click on the option ‘Its suspicious or spam’ or any other option which more appropriate.
    f. Click on the Button ‘Done’ on the top-right corner.
  5. LinkedIn
    Procedure to Report Fake News on Linkedin:
    a. Click on the three linear dots on the top-right corner of the post which is fake news.
    b. Menu will pop up.
    c. Click on the ‘Report this post’ option.
    d. New Menu will be displayed with title ‘Why are you reporting this post?’.
    e. Click on the option ‘Suspicious or fake’ or any other option which may be more appropriate.
    f. New Menu will be displayed with title ‘How is this suspicious or fake?’.
    g. Click on the option ‘Misinformation’ and then click on the ‘Submit’ button.
    h. Click on the Button ‘Done’ on the top-right corner.

Other social media such as Telegram, Snapchat etc. have the almost similar procedure of reporting any fake news.

Ill effects of fake news are exponentially rising every day. However, laws currently in force insufficient to curb fake news. There is also insufficient technology in India to monitor and curb fake news. Therefore, it is high time parliament should enact strict act to curb fake news. The government should also run campaign, advertisements to educate people on how to identify fake news and report it. Fake news awareness posters should also be displayed in every public place. Sessions of how to identify fake news and report the same should be conducted in every school and college. The government should provide increase funding of the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPRD) so that in-depth research can be conducted regarding the nature and scale of fake news. The government should aim to provide high-end technology to the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPRD) and the Press Council of India (PCI) to track fake news and bring the culprits to justice.
Authored By: Adv. Anant Sharma & Satwik Sharma

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