India sets up a panel to monitor fake news ahead of the general elections

India sets up a panel to monitor fake news ahead of the general elections

  • The Election Commission of India is setting up a panel to analyse the relationship between news and social media platforms.
  • The panel will determine violations and possible penalties.
  • With the general elections around the corner, it’s speculated that religious and ethnic tensions will only increase in the coming months.
The past few months India has been embroiled in increasing incidents of lynchings instigated, in part, by fake news on social media platforms. And, in the light of the general elections drawing closer next year, the Election Commission of India has taken the initiative to establish a panel that will analyse the interaction of social media and news.

As per reports, the panel is going to examine the role of social media platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook and YouTube and recommend ways to deal with violations.

Around the world, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines are also mulling over their options to counter fake news. Germany, on the other hand, has already passed a legislation that requires social media networks to remove hate speech from their platforms.

A worrying trend

In recent months, India has borne witness to a rise in religious and ethnic sentiment. In 2018 alone, there have been at least 24 people killed in the name of public justice where the accusations have been based on fake news of child kidnapping and cow smuggling.

While some blame the lack of regulations over social media, the opposition party, along with the Supreme Court in India, blames PM Modi and the ruling faction for the disturbing pattern of rising intolerance. Modi, on the other hand, retaliated by stating that reducing such cases to ‘mere statistics’ for the sake of politics shows a perverse mindset in a situation where there should be unity.

In a prior attempt to curb fake news, the Information and Broadcasting Ministry issued a press release that stated that the accreditation of a journalist could be annulled if the person is found propagating or generating fake news in any way.

But, that was scrapped within 24 hours.

Rather than be about reducing fake news, the measure drew criticism that it was just another way to muzzle the Indian media. Because, if a piece of news is even ‘suspected’ to be fake, the journalist would be suspended for upto 15 days while the Press Council of India analyses the case.

It’s also important to recognise that fake news is not an ‘India’ problem but a global phenomenon. The ease and speed with which information can travel nowadays makes it easier for negative elements to take advantage of the system.

With the elections coming up, it’s speculated that intolerance may take a turn for the worse depending on whether the election is fought on the back of the Hindu nationhood ideology of Hindutva or economic growth and development.