Mains Paper 3: Internal Security | Challenges to internal security through communication networks, role of media & social networking sites in internal security challenges
From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:
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- The proliferation of technology, cheap smartphones, and reasonable data rates has enabled the democratization of online content.
- The flip side is that the speed of content distribution has made traditional journalistic controls of verification unfeasible.
- Thus, the unfettered flow of speech has become vulnerable to the boom of unverified information.
- Recent incidents in India are indicative of potential harm, ranging from political misinformation to a spate of lynching.
FAKE NEWS- a vogue term
- As the incident of withdrawal of the fake news circular indicates, the free speech implications at hand demand a cautionary approach. A preliminary issue is a difficulty in defining fake news.
- While misinformation spread through social media has captured public attention, the fake news itself is an amorphous category, including –
- misleading news,
- unverified content,
- hoaxes, and
- fabricated pictures in the nature of internet memes.
- The assessment may involve distinguishing mere poor journalism from deliberate attempts to spread misinformation.
- Any top-down regulation that defines fake news simply as containing falsehood may be setting itself up for failure.
What defines the boundary of a news?
- It is easy for such regulation to fall into the trap of assuming the existence of a single and verifiable version of the truth.
- Apart from cases of patent and absolute falsehood, the line between truth and untruth may be difficult to draw.
- The news is generally a mix of facts and opinions that are not amenable to neat segregation.
Pre-Censorship is Impossible
- Pre-censorship of news and information, while being virtually impossible due to the speed of content creation, will also violate the guarantee of free speech under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.
- On the one hand, such legislation could divest individuals of autonomy.
- On the other, it could bolster the power of the government to censor opinions it is uncomfortable with.
- Any screening in the context of social media applications such as WhatsApp could also violate the fundamental right to privacy recognized by the Supreme Court.
Self- Censorship can work
- A cautionary approach warrants avoiding overarching regulation in the form of anti-fake news legislation, irrespective of the benignity of its motivations.
- Entrusting a judge, the state or companies like Facebook with the task of making an evaluation of veracity will facilitate judicial, government or private censorship.
- This can breed a chilling effect and self-censorship.
A decentralized three-point agenda to address the fake news
Implementation of the above three prongs will not only be a sustainable response to the fake news but will also strike the necessary balance with free speech considerations.
- To ensure critical media literacy, with critical digital literacy as a component.
- This would focus on encouraging individuals to learn the skills required to navigate the internet and question the content they are exposed to.
- Users should understand the limitations of digital media.
- Full Fact and Facebook’s toolkit offer useful suggestions about this. Design changes to social media platforms that flag content can also be incorporated.
- To nurture a general culture of scepticism among citizens towards information
- Good practices, such as verifying the source of the news and corroboration with related news, ought to be advanced in schools and through public education campaigns.
- The role of the district administration and local community leaders is key in this regard.
- Heartening examples such as the Satyameva Jayate programme in Kannur schools and initiatives by the superintendent of police in Gadwal demonstrate the potential of such an approach.
- Limited Legal Interventions can be explored
- In a limited set of situations, such as when there is threat to life or national security, targeted and proportionate legal interventions can be explored.
- They should account for existing speech offences to avoid overlap.
- Despite their own flaws, existing provisions on hate speech, sedition and defamation already deal with certain kinds of harm that may be substantially similar to those posed by fake news.