The total number of smartphone users in India is growing by leaps and bounds. With more than 300 million users currently, it is predicted that by 2022 India would have nearly 800 million smartphone users. The rise in income and better internet facility has pushed buyers to opt for technologically better phones over the basic ones. Business has become smooth and communication more affordable in a country which not long ago would hear 'all lines are busy, please dial after sometime' than from the person dialed.
However, like any technological advancement, smartphones too, have posed a great challenge to the Indian authorities as they have found themselves often clueless in the wake of spread of fake news. From the death of celebrities to attack on minorities or majorities, the fakers successfully expose the vulnerability of users and highlight our heavy handedness to deal with them. The ill-equipped authorities are struggling because they are fighting a modern menace with centuries old laws and system. It is a crime to spread hate speech in India, but so is elsewhere. We have not understood the difference between hate speech and fake news. While the latter creates an atmosphere for the former, the former does not necessarily need the latter in a country already divided on caste and community lines.
So far, the Indian authorities have done only one thing in the wake of a rumour being spread: Shut down internet. It is like switching the engine of your car off and pretend that it is not broken down while the reality is you need help. While it might be a quick thing to quell the buzz the fact is it is not a long term solution. The obvious question here is what does a robust solution look like? This smart problem may have found a smart solution in Germany.
Open German Style
Germany has been a victim of fake news like any other country where news would range from politics to people. Because of its 'open door policy' the government has been targeted by anti-immigrant groups. At the heart of it would be hate against refugees and the news would claim that German people (men/women/children) have been abused, killed, looted by those who came from other countries. One such fake news of a girl being raped by a refugee sparked huge outrage in the country. The authorities having found it was a canard, and could do nothing but feel embarrassed and helpless. This precipitated a discussion with regards to fixing the responsibility of the social media giants and called for new laws.
In 2017, Chancellor Angela Merkel gave nod to a social media bill to fight fake news. According to the bill, the onus of the fake news would be on the platforms to curb it. It proposed social media giants like Facebook and Twitter to take actions within as less as 24 hrs having received a complaint against any kind of content spreading falsehood and hate. For cases which could be considered 'complex' the time period would be up to a week. Failure to do so would slap the companies with an unprecedented fine up to 50 million Euros. Those who hold director level posts could be fined up to 5 million for failing to take action within the time outlined. German lawmakers passed the bill and it is being considered as a test and it is yet to be seen whether such law could be helpful. Having said that, it does catch the bull of social media platforms by its horns and calls for serious vetting.
Has India liked everything that social media platforms are doing? No. In 2018 the government of India did issue notice to Facebook in relation to data breach. Impacting Indian elections was also 'discussed' last year but the discussion was as shallow as most discussions on social media. From Europe to America, the world has seen the alleged role of social media giants in meddling elections. What will happen in India? The problem is authorities are still dealing with this new menace called fake news by primordial laws. Let me share this on social media!