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Updated: Aug 19, 2020

SHAIK UZMA (GITAM School of Law )

From a long time to now the world has been fighting a deluge of disinformation and affecting operations. Society, in fact, is undergoing something called a 'reality disease' today where disambiguation of truth from misinformation has become extremely difficult. For our simple understanding we can call this misinformation as Fake news

What is meant by FAKE NEWS?

Fake news is a word that has come to mean different things to different people. In its core, we describe "fake news" as those new reports that are false: the article itself is made without verifiable evidence, sources or quotes. Sometimes such articles may be advertisements designed to intentionally deceive the reader, or they may be published as "clickbait" for economic opportunities (the writer profits from the amount of people who click on the story). In the past few years, fake news stories have proliferated via social media, in part because they are distributed so easily and rapidly online.

The "fake news" world is far broader than mere false news reports. Some stories may have a nugget of reality, but lack of the information to contextualize. They do not have any data or references which can be checked. Some stories may contain simple verifiable facts but are written in a purposely offensive language.

How fake news spreads?

False news might seem new, but the only modern thing about it is the medium used. Propaganda has been around for centuries and the internet is just the latest means of communication to be misused in order to spread lies and misinformation.

The fire triangle represents the three elements a fire requires to burn: oxygen, flame, and a fuel. Similarly, fake news requires three different items to succeed. Those together reflect the Fake News Triangle: it can't spread and hit its target audience without all of those reasons.

First requirement: tools and services to manipulate and spread the message across relevant social media networks, many of which are sold from around the globe in various online communities. There are a wide variety of tools and services available; some are relatively simple (paid likes / followers, etc.), while others are more unusual — some services promise stuffing online polls, while some force site owners to take stories down.

Of course, the second requirement; social networks must exist as a forum for propaganda dissemination to be of some use to such devices. Despite people spending more time on these sites as a way of getting the latest news and facts, their role can not be underestimated in spreading fake news. However, there’s a difference between simply posting propaganda and actually turning it into something that the target audience consumes. We show what kinds of techniques are used by spammers in order to lure users into viewing their stories.

Finally, campaign advertising still comes up with the question: why. We are talking about the reasons behind fake news: often it is simply a desire for monetary benefit by advertisement and that desire can also be called as motive (Third requirement). In other situations the motives can vary from criminal to political. Whatever the motivation, inevitably the effectiveness of any marketing campaign would be dependent on how much it impacts the real world.

Therefore, these three requirements help in spreading fake news.

The Scale of the Problem in India

● Press dissemination of misinformation and disinformation is becoming a major social challenge. This contributes to the web-based toxic environment and triggers road protests and lynchings.

● It's a serious problem in the age of the internet (WhatsApp, Facebook , Twitter,) as rumors, distorted photos, click-baits, motivated stories, unverified facts, planting stories for different interests easily spread among 35 crore internet users in India.

● There have been many false reports leading to innocent people being killed. Ministers have in some cases deleted tweets after they learned the false news they posted earlier.

● WhatsApp, in India, is the most open site to fake news. Millions of Indians (a large percentage is uneducated) use mobile internet innocently sending 'good morning' messages every day are seen as most vulnerable to false news reports.

● The media flooded with fake news about competing parties and candidates in the recent Karnataka Assembly elections (2018).

● It may not be a coincidence that India has the highest number of selfie deaths in the world (person who dies while trying to take a selfie) (76 of the 127 deaths recorded globally between March 2014 and September 2016). Phone and internet misuse and harassment remain a problem.

Role of Social media in spreading fake news

Unlike other nations, WhatsApp is India is a prime distributor of fake news, but not other social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter. The social networking giant-Facebook-has purchased WhatsApp, a mobile messaging tool. This social media platform allows its users to share information by distributing it to other users in different communities and broadcasting lists within the same network that has resulted in a massive, unregulated distribution of information seldom investigated by users. This has not only misinformed social media users but has also sparked violence and barbaric killings across the world.

In 2018 one of the most horrific cases of lynching was witnessed by Panjuri Kachari, a small village in Assam. The camera video that went viral showed two blood-soaked people begging for their lives, they were dead seconds later. These two men from Guwahati, capital of Assam's north-eastern state, were beaten to death by an insane village mob wielding bamboo sticks, machetes, and bricks, as they were believed to be kidnappers of girls. In different media outlets the case was debated as to how rumors circulated on Facebook and WhatsApp in India lead to the death of two men. In May and June 2018 alone, about 20 people were victims of lynching cases; Many of the viral news spread across Facebook and WhatsApp. At least 18 people were killed in 2018 as a result of the violence fuelled by rumors spread over WhatsApp.

Some instances include the outbursts of violence in Shillong due to communal differences between two groups; the lynching of two men by an angry mob, who presumed the victims to be cattle thieves in Jharkhand; and the death of two people in Assam after being misunderstood by a mob as child lifters. These instances led to pressure from the government of West Bengal to work towards the implementation of a law. The unrest in these areas was attributed to the propagation of hate and misinformation on social media. The new law's proposed legislation includes stringent sanctions in place against people or groups responsible for promoting hate and false news in society, and undermining unity in a public domain.

Nowadays, Covid19 has spread to nearly 190 countries and with more and more people being forced to stay at home during quarantine, internet use is expected to be higher than normal as people have used online channels to work remotely, to search awareness, to reach out to their loved ones and also to exchange personal information and any misinformation at this crucial period.

Tensions have always been a breeding ground for knowledge. The Covid19 pandemic has created a ready-made framework for these malicious actors to cause chaos and gain benefit, or take advantage of vulnerable people and populations. As the world wrests with a pandemic caused by a new coronavirus, COVID-19, on digital channels, officials around the world are forced to face an explosion of disinformation / fake news about the virus. When it comes to reliability and acceptance of any knowledge, the confidence of the people has shifted from traditional channels to internet / social media.

Laws to Counter Fake News in India

Free publishing or broadcast of news in India flows from the constitutional right to freedom of speech as enshrined in Article 19 of the Constitution. So there are no laws to Counter it. But some legal provisions are available for the people who are affected by the Fake news. They are:

1. Complaints can be filed with the News Broadcasters Association ( NBA), which represents the news and current affairs broadcasters for private television. More than 60 members support it. The NBA is the Government's reliable face of news broadcasters. It is self-regulatory in nature, and reasonably investigates allegations against news broadcasters.

2. There is another body called the Indian Broadcast Foundation (IBF), established in 1999 to investigate concerns about content broadcast across 24x7 channels. In the country today more than 650 news channels are in service. Complaint may be lodged with IBF online or offline in English or Hindi against any broadcaster for the promotion of smoking, harassment or any act of violence.

3. And there is the Commission for Complaints on Broadcasting Content (BCCC). A complaint concerning objectionable television content or fake news can be lodged with the Broadcasting Content Complain Council if a broadcaster incites community hatred, encourages violence against women or child abuse, airs content with gory scenes of violence, promote superstition or drug use and other smuggling substances.

There are also several legislative bodies.

India's Press Council, created by parliamentary act, is a statutory body. Withdrawing the notification on fake news, the government said the issues related to fake news should be dealt with within the ambit of India's Press Council.

According to the Press Council Act, 1978, it may warn, warn or censor the newspaper, news agency, editor or journalist or disapprove of the editor's or journalist's conduct if it finds that a newspaper or news agency has offended against the standards of journalistic ethics or public taste or that any professional misconduct has been committed by an editor or a working journalist.

But not only media critics, but also lawyers consider the Press Council as a body without teeth. "In the case of false news, there is little that India's Press Council may do but to condemn or admonish a news organization found guilty of spreading misinformation," Supreme Court attorney Atul Kumar said.

There are also sections of the IPC that has to deal with fake news.

Under the Indian Penal Code, a more powerful weapon is available to the victim of false news. Sections 153 and 295 of the IPC can be used to defend against false news. Seen from Sections 153 and 295 perspective, action may be taken against someone who produces or spreads fake news if it can be called hate speech.

In such a case, an FIR may be lodged under Section 153 for "wantoning provocation with intent to cause riot" and under Section 295 for "injuring or defiling place of worship with intent to insult the religion of any class."

Measures to avoid the Fake news:

1. Determining the origin and source of the post. If one is not sure of the validity and accuracy of the message or its substance, attempts may be made to be sure of the truth of the matter before it is forwarded to others.

2. Before disseminating it, conduct secondary checks on Google or other sites in the event of any statements made in the message that one has received.

3. If the message incites strong emotions for such reasons, it is likely to be sent. Every surprising or unbelievable assertion that has been made must be checked before it is submitted to others who might fully believe it.

4. In the case of a message containing videos or pictures, it is possible to edit or use them out of context in order to confuse naive receivers. A simple Google search of the reverse image will reveal the original source and meaning of the image. Any harm caused by such forwarding will make the individual who does so liable to legal consequences.

5. Using fact-checking tools, there are many reputed fact-checking sites that help people verify social media statements or messages have gone viral.

6. There will also be noticeable spelling, punctuation errors or other grammatical errors that may point to the message's inauthenticity. A healthy skepticism towards content on social media must be created.

Such basic steps will go a long way in the fight against Fake News and Disinformation.


In order to protect the people from becoming a victim of the Infodemic, the central and state government authorities should remain hawk-eyed about any online disturbances. A single piece of false information that gets attention will bring to nil the value of truthful information. The authorities will therefore aim to identify fake news early, counter it with the aid of social media sites and track the origins of such misinformation. The proposed fake news law is outdated and not very precise.

"Beware of False knowledge; it is more dangerous than ignorance"

- George Bernard Shaw


[DISCLAIMER: This article is for general information only. We have tried to include as much information as possible but there are chances that some important information may have been missed .It is NOT to be substituted for legal advice or taken as legal advice. The publishers of the this article shall not be liable for any act or omission based on this note].

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