When social media goes to wrong hands...Will Tamil Nadu curb the pandemic of fake news?

The growth of social media and lack of proper scrutiny have been becoming ingredients behind the recipe of fake news and awfully, the well-developed states like Tamil Nadu are being victimized by the wrong hands, which deliberately circulate the ill-full piece of stories under the guise of media. The shocking revelation has rung a strong alarm that Tamil Nadu must take a whip on such fake news to curb them from causing more harm to the people. 

The recently-published data of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) has revealed that the number of cases booked for circulating false/fake news and rumours in Tamil Nadu had doubled in 2020 than the preceding year, implying an eerie sense of concern over media credibility and transparency. According to the NCRB data, 188 cases were booked in Tamil Nadu in 2020 alone for spreading fake news under the Indian Penal Code's Section 505 - whoever makes, publishes, or circulates any statement or report containing rumour or alarming news with intent to create or promote hatred or ill-will between different religious, racial, and linguistic groups. 

If convicted under Section 505, the convict would face incarceration for three years, or with a fine, or with both. The data had shown that Tamil Nadu is the second state to book more cases for fake news in 2020 after Telangana, which booked 273 cases. Following Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh had booked 166 cases while Bihar and Maharashtra had booked 144 and 132 cases respectively. In 2019, Tamil Nadu had booked 91 cases against fake news and such a growing pattern of fake news display the imperativeness of a stringent measure. 

Fake news is always injurious to society and such wrong hands had created more panic among people during the Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown. In 2020, the Erode district administration had slapped the Goondas Act against two college students for spreading fake news about the Covid-19 spread in a village and three youths were booked in the Vellore district for spreading false information. It must be noted that several YouTubers had shared a video of prescribing medicines to the pandemic in their version and these videos had stirred outrage as there had been no immediate cure for the pandemic when it emerged.

In March 2020, the Tamil Nadu police arrested YouTuber Healer Baskar for spreading rumours about Covid-19. By putting out unscientific claims, Baskar went on to allege conspiracies by the government in the precautionary steps against the Covid-19, that panicked the people. The Chennai police had also arrested Thanikasalam after he claimed to have found a herbal cure for Covid-19 and spreading the message through social media. Thanikasalam was a Siddha doctor near Koyambedu and these instances had sparked tensions and disturbed the traits of the media. 

According to the Times of India, former Tamil Nadu DGP Nataraj said, "Fake news gets all the attention and correct version just gets mentioned in dispatches which affect the morale of the police. There is a need for self-discipline in sharing information." In 2020, India was under the pandemic of fake news as according to NCRB, a total of 1,527 cases of fake news were recorded last year, which is a 214 per cent increase, comparing to the preceding years - 486 cases in 2019 and 280 cases in 2018. While Telangana tops the list of states with more cases of fake news, Hyderabad, Chennai, and Delhi are the top three cities with more cases of fake news with 208, 42, and 30 cases respectively.

The pandemic of fake news in India: 

Another shocking study had revealed that India has produced the largest amount of social media misinformation on Covid-19 due to the country's higher internet penetration rate, increasing social media consumption, and users' lack of internet literacy. The study, 'Prevalence and Source Analysis of COVID-19 Misinformation in 138 countries', was published in Sage's International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions journal. 

According to reports, the study had analyzed 9,657 pieces of misinformation that originated in 138 countries. They were fact-checked by 94 organizations to understand the prevalence and sources of misinformation in different countries. The study has revealed that of all pieces, India has produced the largest amount of social media misinformation (18.07 per cent) in the world due to the country's higher internet penetration rate, increasing social media consumption, and users' lack of internet literacy. 

The study has further said, "Social media (84.94 per cent) produces the largest amount of misinformation and the internet (90.5 per cent) as a whole is responsible for most of the Covid-19 misinformation. Moreover, Facebook alone produces 66.87 per cent of the misinformation among all social media platforms."