Although India boasts a whopping 845.6 million internet users, the incidents of fake news and rumors spreading through digital mediums have also increased three-fold in the country, according to official records.

In a report published by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), an agency compiling data for the government, 1,527 cases of fake news were reported in 2020 against 486 in 2019 and 280 in 2018.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency on the occasion of Safer Internet Day being observed on Wednesday, Osama Manzar founder of a voluntary group Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF) – said the fake news is emerging a potent threat for the society.

He said his organization is creating a network of cadres in villages to help people to distinguish between fake and real news. His organization has already posted information entrepreneurs at 1,000 places to help create awareness about safer internet.

“During the first wave of COVID-19, there was a lot of misinformation about health-related issues. Our 850 out of 1,000 digital information entrepreneurs were on the ground using all means like messaging verbal and audio announcements to help the community to fight misinformation,” he said.

He said for the people, who are having internet connectivity for the first time, it is a challenge to distinguish between misinformation, fake news, hate news, and a piece of trustworthy information.

Geeta Seshu, co-founder of Free Speech Collective — which works to campaign and safeguard freedom of expression in India – said online harassment and attacks on the internet on daily basis is a common phenomenon in the country.

“Hate speech and vigilante action by the people who try to police views of others on the internet is also a problem. These are some of the issues that are not making the internet a safe place,” she said.

She said that the internet should remain a safe place for expressing free speech, opinions and for sharing information.
Manzar said that existing laws have enough provisions to punish someone passing misinformation, fake news, or trying to become a vigilante and spreading hate through the digital medium.

“I don’t think having another legislation will be of use. The problem is that law is frequently misused,” Seshu told Anadolu Agency.

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