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Tuesday, May 30, 2023

SC issues notice to Centre, Twitter over regulating fake news

The Supreme Court on Friday issued notice to the Centre and Twitter over regulating the spread of fake news and instigative messages on the social media platform. It sought a mechanism to prevent bogus accounts and the spread of anti-Bharat messages and hate content.

A bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde which also included justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian issued the notice to the Center and Twitter.

The notice comes after a row between the center and Twitter. Twitter refused to take down certain handles that had posted false & inflammatory content over the farmers protest such as a hashtag #ModiPlansFarmerGenocide. The government had pulled up Twitter officials and slammed their double standards by comparing the immediate action taken by Twitter in the aftermath of the US Capitol Hill episode and its inaction after the violence at Red Fort that left hundreds of police personnel injured.

A PIL was filed by BJP leader Vinit Goenka seeking regulation over venomous messages over the social media platform. The plea also seeks to clamp down on the anti-Bharat messages which attempt to trigger violence by spreading toxic messages. He also stated that Twitter knowingly promotes messages which are against Bharat’s laws. Therefore, the algorithms used by the company must abide by the government  for screening anti-Bharat tweets.

The plea stated:

“These fake Twitter handles and Facebook accounts use a real photo of constitutional authorities and eminent citizens. Therefore, the common man relies upon the messages published from these Twitter handles and Facebook accounts. Fake news is the root cause of many riots, including the one in Delhi earlier this year, and bogus accounts are used to promote casteism and communalism which endangers fraternity and unity of the country. It is submitted that presently a total number of Twitter handles in India is around 35 million and the total number of Facebook accounts is 350 million and experts say that around 10 percent of Twitter handles (3.5 million) and 10 percent of Facebook accounts (35 million) are duplicates/bogus/fake,”

The plea also said that political parties use fake accounts to build their image, for self-promotion, to tarnish the image of the opponents during the election. The PIL file further stated that there are hundreds of fake Facebook accounts and fake Twitter handles in the name of eminent personalities and high dignitaries.

Pointing out that the Ministry of Home Affairs has banned Khalistani outfit Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) under the Unlawful Activities and Prevention Act on July 10, 2019, the plea said it still continues to have an active presence on Twitter and espouses hatred, terrorism and sedition, criminal acts.

However, the plea also made the controversial demand that “KYC of all social media handles in India must be conducted for making social media safe and accountable and traceable.” Many anonymous accounts provide insightful commentary on a variety of topics that disrupts established narratives, or challenge authority figures with incisive arguments. It is one of the primary reasons that social media has emerged as such a democratic platform that allows free exchange of ideas.

The repeated suspension of the knowledgable ‘TrueIndology’ handle, one time after a debate with a serving IPS officer, is a good case study of why such accounts prefer to stay anonymous. So while filtering out hate speech, bogus accounts and anti-Bharat messages is a good objective, care must be taken that individuals are not forced to reveal more information than they are comfortable with on social media platforms.

After a stern message by Ravi Shankar Prasad in Rajya Sabha to Twitter, for a crackdown on inflammatory messages, action was taken by them to block 97% of such accounts. However, Twitter has still not agreed to block the accounts of ‘journalists, activists and politicians’ who were involved in spreading the same inflammatory messages. For eg. a repeat offender like newsmagazine Caravan is still active on Twitter.

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