In News

  • The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the Centre to explain its “mechanism” against fake news and bigotry on air, and to create one if it did not already exist.
  • Inability on the government’s part may well see the job go to an “outside agency,” the court said.

What is Fake News?

  • Fake news is news, stories or hoaxes created to deliberately misinform or deceive readers.
  • Usually, these stories are created to either influence people’s views, push a political agenda or cause confusion and can often be a profitable business for online publishers.
  • Fake news is not a new phenomenon which is linked to the rise of social media, on the contrary from the times of ancient Greece, the governments and political actors (anyone in the business of mobilising public opinion) have always invested in disinformation campaigns to build narratives of their choice.

Causes of Spread of Fake News In India

  • Social Media: The advent of social media has decentralized the creation and propagation of fake news.
    • The sheer vastness of the internet (over 35 crore users in India) and social media users (an estimated over 20 crore WhatsApp users alone) makes tracing the origin of fake news almost impossible.
  • Polarization of society: Increasing divide in the society on ideological lines has made the job of spreading fake news easier.
  • Erosion of Media Ethics: News media is no longer seen as an arbitrator of the ‘real news’. Media is alleged to be echo-chamber of the dominant political class.

Thus News Media have lost credibility due to complicit and motivated reporting, which has become a source of fake news.

  • Lack of legislation: There is no specific law to deal with fake news in India.
    • Free publication or broadcast of news in India flows from the fundamental right to freedom of expression as enshrined under Article 19 of the Constitution
  • Confirmation Bias: Studies have confirmed that people don’t care about finding the ‘truth’ behind a news item and instead look for evidence to support their preferred narrative.

How to deal with fake news?

The current response to fake news primarily revolves around three prongs — rebuttal, removal of the fake news item and educating the public.

  • Rebuttal: It is a form of fact-checking wherein the fake news is debunked by pointing out errors like mismatch, malicious editing and misattribution.
  • Removal of Fake news: Technical companies like Facebook and YouTube uses algorithms to proactively remove fake news from their platforms.
    • Also, WhatsApp has put a limit on forwarding messages, so as to limit the spread to fake news.
  • Educating the end-users to be more discerning consumers of news by informing them of verification tools so that they can ascertain the accuracy of a news item before sharing it.
  • Another method that is propagated by the government, concerns tracking the ‘source’ of fake news. For this government proposes to de-anonymise all social media accounts.
    • However, this provision is criticized on account of the invasion of privacy, curbing of free speech, and creation of surveillance state.

Laws Governing Fake News:

  • There is no specific law against fake news in India. Free publication of news flows from Article 19 of the Constitution guaranteeing freedom of speech.
  • Press Council of India, a regulatory body, can warn, admonish or censure the newspaper, the news agency, the editor or the journalist or disapprove the conduct of the editor or the journalist if it finds that a newspaper or a news agency has violated journalistic ethics.
  • News Broadcasters Association (NBA) represents the private television news and current affairs broadcasters. The self-regulatory body probes complaints against electronic media.
  • Indian Broadcast Foundation (IBF) also looks in to the complaints against contents aired by channels.
  • Broadcasting Content Complaint Council(BCCC) admits complaints against TV broadcasters for objectionable TV content and fake news.
  • Indian Penal Code (IPC) has certain sections which could curb fake news: Section 153 (wantonly giving provocation with intent to cause riot) and Section295 (injuring or defiling place of worship with intent to insult the religion of any class) can be invoked to  guard against fake news.
  • Civil or Criminal Case for Defamation is another resort against fake news for individuals and groups hurt by the fake news. IPC Section 499 (defamation)and Section 500 (whoever defames another shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term  which may extend to two years, or with fi ne, or with both) provide for a defamation suit.