There is a case before the Supreme Court that looks at the issue of fake news, and the proposed solution. Representing the government, Attorney General KK Venugopal is arguing the need to link social media accounts with Aadhar to prevent the spread of fake news. Which tells you two things – the first is that senior law officers of the government (and Opposition) need training in how the internet works. The second is that fake news is a serious-enough problem for the government to try and take some action -- even though the action is not very well thought out.
Fake news is a huge problem, not just in India but elsewhere. It has been considered responsible for bringing Donald Trump to power, ensuring Brexit, infuriating mobs in India to lynch, and start the outbreak of the measles virus by circulating fake news about the efficacy of vaccinations. In short, fake news is not just a moral hazard – people lying – but can lead to devastating consequences for life, limb, property, and democracy. Furthermore, it is not just fake news that governments are worried about. There is the dark web too. The dark web is that part of the web that is not indexed by any search engine, and can only be accessed through special browsers – such as Tor and Onion -- and offers its users complete and utter anonymity. While many activists in nations with repressive regimes are known to use the dark web to escape detection, it is also used by drug runners, paedophiles, human traffickers, arms dealers, and other unsavoury criminals. It is also this, that the system wants to check. Unfortunately for the powers that be, linking Aadhar with email and social networks is not going to solve the dark web problem. That requires a different degree of international collaboration that brings down the black markets, without taking away the safe haven of activists. Incidentally, like the internet, the dark web was
provided by the US Navy. Its aim was to allow intelligence operatives to exchange information without being traced. created by funding
With fake news spreading faster than the ability of corporations, or fact checkers, to verify and put out the truth – there are measures needed to curb it. There were cases pending before Indian High courts in various states, that have all been transferred to the Supreme Court.
At one level there is the measure of privacy. Do you really want the government snooping through your dog-and-cat videos, baby pictures, and Instagram food posts? The counter to that is that the information is already available online, and anyone with the ability to search can access it. After all, those of us who use social media are broadcasting to our connection, and in that sense – the information is public. Also, corporations churning our data are able to make linkages about us and our habits with great ease. So much so, they are
if a woman is pregnant, based on her shopping trends. However, across the world, including India, there is legislation being planned to curb what corporations know about us, and use for their ends. Should the government have access to the same data? How will it impact you? able to know
The second question is of practicality. There is nothing that stops a person living in Macedonia
about your country – either out of political belief, or to earn a few quick click bait dollars. Aadhar linkages are not going to stop them. from putting out fake news
At the core, if the government wants to stop fake news, it needs to clamp down on its own
party’s IT cell , along with the IT cells of other parties. Maybe parties that register IT cells and disseminate news on Whatsapp and other media, need to be registered as news providers, and go through the same degree of checks that normal news outfits are supposed to adhere to. And, more importantly, breach of verified news guidelines needs to be met with strict financial penalties, and maybe even jail sentences.
There are around
on social media, most of whom do nothing more than share terrible Tik Tok videos. The government wants to control 350 million people, without being able to control politically motivated IT cells. Maybe it needs to fix issues in its own house, instead of penalising the rest of us, for the misdeeds of a few. 350 million Indians Harini Calamur writes on politics, gender and her areas of interest are the intersection of technology, media, and audiences. Read Harini Calamur's columns