The exponentially growing social media is like a double-edged weapon. On one hand, the penetration of the internet and smartphones have democratised the flow of information while on the other hand, they have spawned a dangerous trend of spreading fake news, hate crimes and cyber offences. Social media platforms, particularly messaging apps, are often used to spread disinformation and hate speech, thereby posing a serious threat to national security and public order. As a result, it is a challenging task for the governments to formulate an institutional mechanism to regulate social media in a manner that strikes a healthy balance between the imperatives of the national security and social order and the need for protecting citizens’ privacy. The NDA government’s plan to frame new rules on social media regulation is fraught with similar challenges. However, in the name of curbing fake news and rumours, the new regime of regulations should not be turned into a tool for expanding surveillance on the citizens. As the government has set January 2020 as the deadline for finalising the regulations, it must be mindful of the need to balance between the right to online privacy and the right of the state to detect people who use the web to spread panic and commit crimes. Essentially, the Information Technology Intermediaries Guidelines (Amendment) Rules 2018, which are now being fine-tuned with feedback from various stakeholders, are aimed at making intermediaries like the internet giants more liable towards the content that is published and transmitted on their platforms.
It would be over-simplistic on the part of the government to fix the accountability on the social media companies alone for finding technological solutions to curb the objectionable content. While technology per se is not the problem, the virality of texts is what makes the fake news spread very fast across these platforms. The efficiency of law enforcement agencies and the district administration holds key to curbing the fake news menace. In the last few years, there has been an enormous increase in the use of social media. With lower Internet tariffs, penetration of smart devices and last mile connectivity, more and more people in India are becoming part of social media platforms, creating and consuming the content. Unfortunately, there have been growing instances where hate-filled content shared on such platforms had resulted in mob attacks leading to the death of innocent people. Also, various political parties are blamed for using social media during elections for spreading misleading information to lure voters. If child pornography is a zero-tolerance crime, so should be fake news. And, there is a strong case for making Aadhaar or any other government-authorised identity proof mandatory to authenticate social media accounts.