Swachh Digital India: What Happens to Those Who Post Fake News?
There is a veil of anonymity on the Internet and this need to change to curb fake news.
There is a veil of anonymity on the Internet and this need to change to curb fake news.(Aaqib Raza Khan/The Quint)

Swachh Digital India: What Happens to Those Who Post Fake News?

“If you want to counter fake news, accountability is a must,” says cyber law expert Pavan Duggal.

The Indian law doesn’t recognise the words ‘fake news’ nor does it define it. It has no provisions to deal with it
Paval Duggal, Cyber Law Expert

“But cases about posting misinformation on social media are a crime and could be registered under the Information Technology Act. Posting misinformation or someone hiding their true identity to misguide could invite charges of cheating.”

“But these are all indirect ways of curbing fake news,” Duggal says.

Indian law has no provisions to deal with fake news.
Indian law has no provisions to deal with fake news.
(Photo: iStock)

Posting fake news on social media involves three parties – the person who publishes the information, the service provider that hosts the platform and those who share and forward the post.

Cyber security expert Vijay Mukhi says fake news is a menace.

“People post fake or abusive content on social media because they feel the hosting platform will not act against them and they are safe,” he says.

“These platforms do not cooperate with police. For them, it’s a commercial decision.”

Facebook has been campaigning to raise awareness about fake news, but a company spokesperson refused to discuss the subject when contacted.

Mr Mukhi alleges that police action is mostly political in nature.

“Today, if you speak against Prime Minister Modi you might get arrested, but for speaking against Rahul Gandhi there could be no action,” he says.

Colossal Costs

“If the government wants to trace someone’s identity, it’s not difficult. But when it comes to companies, they do not want users to lose faith. They feel disclosing users’ information to police is a bad marketing strategy,” says ethical hacker Rahul Kumar Singh.

The other factor that acts as a hurdle is the cost involved in tracing an identity, says Rahul Kumar.
One of the hurdles in tracing the identity of a fake news propagator is the cost involved.
One of the hurdles in tracing the identity of a fake news propagator is the cost involved.
(Photo: iStock)

The Uttar Pradesh SIT probed a fake and inflammatory 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots video uploaded on Facebook.

The video went viral and was widely liked and shared.

When the SIT asked Facebook to provide the names of those who uploaded or liked the alleged video, Facebook denied access, saying it maintained records of one year.

“If Facebook maintains only a year’s record, as it claims, how could I, as a user, access and download my posts of the last 10 years?” questions Rahul Kumar.

“Facebook maintains every user activity. In the 2013 riots case, the company perhaps does not want to share information because it fears losing user base which is directly connected to its revenue.”

“Facebook maintains every user activity, but doesn’t share user data”
“Facebook maintains every user activity, but doesn’t share user data”
(Photo: iStock)

It’s important here to refer to the famous Europe Versus Facebook case.

When Austrian activist and lawyer Max Schrems in 2015-16 wanted Facebook to provide him a copy of his personal data stored on the company servers, he was granted a CD-ROM containing over 1,200 pages.

This included his phone number, details about Mr Schrem’s friends and family and even deleted messages.

Snapshotclose

Do you want to know what all information Facebook holds about you?

  • Go to Settings.
  • Go to General Accounts Settings.
  • Click on ‘Download a copy’ option. This would take you to ‘Download your information’ page.
  • Start Download your Archive

Legal Loopholes

Not only the user, even service providers like Facebook that act as platforms for alleged fake posts do not escape prosecution as per Indian law.

Companies do not want to share personal data about a user unless there is legal intervention
Paval Duggal, Cyber Law Expert

It’s alleged that some service providers cite a 2015 Supreme Court order as an excuse.

Two Thane girls were arrested in 2012 because they liked and wrote a Facebook post after Shiv Sena head Bal Thackeray’s death.

A TV screengrab of the Facebook post which led to the arrest of Mumbai girls after they posted against Bal Thackeray’s mourning.
A TV screengrab of the Facebook post which led to the arrest of Mumbai girls after they posted against Bal Thackeray’s mourning.
(Photo Courtesy: Headlines Today)

The arrests under Section 66A of the IT Act were widely criticised.

The controversial section allowed police to arrest people for comments on social networks and internet sites.

The court in its order struck down this section, calling it “unconstitutional.”

“The public’s right to know is directly affected by Section 66A,” the judge said.

“Service providers are not the only problem. Establishing the identity of the person is a challenge,” says Duggal.

“There is a veil of anonymity on the Internet and this need to change to curb fake news.”

“It is high time both users and service providers are more transparent.”

(This article is part of a series done in co-production between The Quint and BBC Hindi called Swachh Digital India. Read more articles from Swachh Digital India here.)

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