Social media originated as a way to interact with friends and family but was later adopted by businesses which wanted to take advantage of a popular new communication method to reach out to customers. The power of social media is the ability to connect and share information with anyone on Earth, or with many people simultaneously. Globally, there are more than 3 billion social media users throughout the world, gone are the days of waiting for the morning news for breaking stories or reading gossip magazines for the latest celebrity dirt. We now have all the information we need at the touch of an app and most people now get their news information online, specifically from social media.
Social media has become the main source of news online with more than 2.4 billion internet users, nearly 64.5 percent receive breaking news from Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Snapchat and Instagram instead of traditional media. Many internet users will see the breaking stories on their feed and go to the news sites to learn more. In present era, Internet is the most advance mode of communication because of its most important feature of independence from geographical boundaries.
Many of other characteristic features of Internet are like, low cost, easy to use and fastest mode of communication. The World is reachable in one Single Click. Because of user-friendly features, Social Media platform is becoming quite popular.
However, Social Media is a controversial topic in the Society. In order to maintain the integrity amongst the community and to strengthen the communal harmony, the society must have to sort to different forms of media in order to reach the large masses that is scattered across the world. It is considered to be the potent instrument because it has the potential to mobilize the public opinion with accordance to the situation prevailing at that moment. It is of a general opinion that, Social Disharmony is fuelled by fear, suspicion and hatred that are transmitted through the channels of Media. social platforms have a control over what news and information we see. Our social media friends have become the “managing editors” deciding what we see. An article needs to be “liked” and shared multiple times before many people see it in their feed. Therefore, social media and your social friends have control over what news pieces you see and what you do not. There are also many “fake news” websites that compete for attention with sensational headlines and ridiculous storylines that tend to get shared more often due to the lack of readers fact checking or reading more than the headline. That means that authentic content is hard to come by now. In fact, fake news is actually more likely to spread than the truth during such challenging time of outbreak of COVID-19 when these platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, YouTube etc. are expected to spread the awareness and real information between the people, it is very unfortunate that these platforms becomes the biggest sources of Infodemic.
The various provision of law which deals with this matter are Information Technology Act, 2000 Section 66D-Punishment for Cheating by Personation by using Computer Resource punishable with Imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to pay fine which may extend up to one lakh rupees.
Indian Penal Code, 1860 Section 505- Statements conducing to Public Mischief punishable with Imprisonment which may extend to three years or fine or both.
Disaster Management Act, 2005 Section 54 Punishment for False Warning punishable with Imprisonment which may extend to One years or fine or both.
Along with the Government, general public is expected to exercise higher degree of caution in this challenging time. General Public needs to be more diligent during the interactions with reference to this pandemic. Before liking, forwarding any news, it is very important for us to verify the content and the origin of such news or information. Further, the existing legal provisions provides for the punishment for spreading of false content, yet there is need of a designated legislation which deals with such issues along with other cyber-crimes.
The term, ‘fake news,’ had been in usage since a century at least, it attained a renewed interest among media scholars and journalists in recent times, mainly owing to the sudden rise of hoaxes propagated via the internet. Information dissemination via the internet, according to scholarly works, could create two major impacts in the society. According to a BBC analysis, in the year 2018, at least 32 people were killed in incidents involving rumours spread on social media or messaging apps (What’s Driving India’s Fake News Problem? 2018). All this called for the government to take some effective actions to curb the spread of misinformation. Following the various cases of lynching witnessed in India, in August 2018, WhatsApp had to start rolling out the five-chat limit for forwarding messages to control the spread of fake news. Social media platforms, in contrast to the traditional and conventional media outlets, enjoy an unchecked space. Since social media platforms provide a free platform for expression of speech and opinions by its users, therefore, no laws can be practically implemented to restrict the freedom of the users. This makes it almost impossible to eradicate fake news from social media as the flow of information, or the content cannot be entirely restricted. Although, this does not rule out the possibility to regulate the medium/platform. There have been various regulating methods implemented by different nations, to combat the propagation of fake news. These regulatory mechanisms have been initiated involving multiple stakeholders, which include self-regulation by social media platforms, legal injunction to curb fake news, implementation of the law, and constitutional remedies and independent regulatory bodies.
In order to maintain the integrity amongst the community and to strengthen the communal harmony, the society must have to sort to different forms of media in order to reach the large masses that is scattered across the world. It is considered to be the potent instrument because it has the potential to mobilize the public opinion with accordance to the situation prevailing at that moment. It is of a general opinion that, Social Disharmony is fuelled by fear, suspicion and hatred that are transmitted through the channels of Media.
As the Media has an upper hand in providing information and content about the happenings in and around a Society, the audiences are forced to believe that, being the Primary source. There are instances where the media has misrepresented the data’s and facts regarding the prevailing discrepancies in the society to the audience.
In the present day, media impacts the life of an individual in several different ways possible. The way one thinks, the attitude and the actions are all impacted in the process. This being the case, what is the role of media in promoting societal harmony, especially in a diverse country like India? Media can be both. Media can be one of the most powerful tools to promote the harmony and peace in the society. It effectively takes part in promoting democracy, equality, tolerance and other positive social values and norms in different ways. But the current media culture is market driven thereby the credibility of its real work erodes as a consequence, at least to a greater extent. When the media can have such a positive impact on the society, it has the same amount of negative impact as well. It all depends on how it portrays the matter in hand to the society.
It must strictly adhere to the norms and standards according to which the news is reported or commented on matters which is in direct relation to the Societal harmony. The norms and standards also include to not distort, or exaggerate any irrelevant facts without any authentic source, and to avoid the usage of intemperate and unrestrained language that is bound to incite unrest in the society.
The Media, especially must ensure that it is strictly following to the abovesaid norms, thereby it serves the duty of maintaining the social balance amongst the people in the society. Their writings and reports are just not a mere reflection of their own feelings but it also helps at a larger extent in moulding the feelings and sentiments of the audiences. The media, being the vital source of information for tomorrow’s history, must owe an undeniable duty to the future by recording events without altering or tailoring the factual and figures.
We must recognise that “fake news” is beneficial to the intermediaries and there is a vested interest in the generation and spread of it. There is, therefore, no commitment to eliminate fake news and opposition is mounted only because of its commercial or political self-interest.
In todays era it a combine duty of media, government, legal authorities and individuals on their own to intelligently scrutinise what they see and believe, a high level of diligence is required to eliminate the evil of Infodemic of rumours on Social Media and we all are duty bound to break this chain.