Fake news has become the ‘New Normal’ in today’s time especially via social media. Inaccurate and fake news circulated on various social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, and Instagram amid the COVID-19 pandemic has not only caused panic among the public but has also threatened the safety, security, and health of the public at large and has negatively impacted the economy.
Addressing this “Second Pandemic” a name given by Red Cross President- Francesco Rocca, the representatives of media organisation from BRICS i.e., Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa on 30th November 2020 came together to work jointly to combat the virus of misinformation during the global pandemic. The virtually held meeting included discussions by media organisations on how journalists could collaborate more closely to tell stories with countries facing such challenges.
In the present day, fake news about Covid-19, its vaccine, its effects, its prevention methods, etc. are being circulated for various reasons and this is misleading the public who are unaware of its authenticity which is ultimately leading to a crisis in the entire society. The circulation and creation of inaccurate and fake news is prevalent since before, its drastic negative effects resulted in the formation of various rules, regulations and amendments in various legislations in India.
For instance, Section 66D of the Information Technology Act gives punishment for cheating by personation by using computer resources and Section 54 of the Disaster Management Act states the punishment for spreading false warning regarding disasters.
Further, the Indian Penal Code has various provisions as well, Section 505(1) of Indian Penal Code, 1860 punishes whoever publishes or circulates any statement, rumour or report which may cause fear or an alarm to the public; Section 153 of the Code criminalises the act of wantonly giving provocation with intent to cause riot; Section 499 and 500 of the Code provide for defamation and punishment for defamation respectively. However, these provisions are usually under the ambit of the fundamental right to speech and expression provided under Article 19(1) (a) of the Indian Constitution which states that all citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression. The existing legal sanctions are therefore invokable only in case adverse consequences, violence, breach of peace, riots, etc. as stated by the Delhi High Court in Vinod Dua v. State (Govt. of NCT of Delhi) dated 10th June 2020.
However, this neglects the misinformation caused silently and negligently by people through homes or workplaces. This does not have immediate drastic effects but leads to major mental distress. For instances, any fake news related to the Covid-19 vaccine, or spread, deaths, etc. may not cause any protests or physical violence but it has the potential of affecting people’s minds, mental health and even the economy as a whole, i.e. fall in the share market, fall in the real estate prices, unemployment, shortage of supply of basic amenities due to sudden increase in demand, etc.
Hence, to safeguard the public and to fight against the spread of false information or misinformation, apart from the laws, awareness is the key. As commonly suggested, measures like promotion of relevant and accurate media exchanges, rigorous fact-checking, an investigation by well-trained journalists, etc. could be an initiative to curb the spread of misinformation, as even suggested by Mr. N. Ram, Director of The Hindu. Additionally, new fact-checking organizations supplemented by technological solutions and deployment of technologies such as AI can also help in achieving the desired results.