Yesterday was 1st April, which has customarily been celebrated as April Fool’s Day. And practically, all of us have been inadvertently victims of a hoax or prank by a friend on this day, at some point of time or the other. But this was all good fun and in good spirits.
But, now fake news or hoax is flooding the social media as it has become “the platform” for exchange of news or information, which can be either true or false.
The New York Times defined “fake news” on the Internet as false articles deliberately fabricated to deceive readers, generally with the goal of profiting through clickbait. Clickbait is content whose main purpose is to attract attention and encourage visitors to click on a link to a particular web page (Toronto Public Library. https://www.torontopubliclibrary.ca/spotfakenews/).
Whenever we come across a news story, we want an evidence or proof of that. The evidence can be in six different forms in the most to least importance piece of evidence.
- Pratyakṣa (प्रत्यक्ष) or directly perceived by any of the five senses. This is the strongest piece of evidence. In this we have seen, heard, tasted, smelt or felt the evidence with our own senses. It is not through hearsay or based on gossip. Original research is the classical example and given the maximum weightage.
- Anumāna (अनुमान) or inference is the next most reliable evidence. It is a research analysis based on observations, previous findings and applying reason or hypothesis. Observing smoke and inferring fire is an example of Anumana. It is based on pratijna (hypothesis like null’s in medicine), hetu (a reason), and drshtanta (examples). All our medical researches based on statistics are based on this principle. Systematic reviews, meta-analysis, guidelines come in this category.
- Upamāna (उपमान) is based on comparison and analogy. We assume things based on one or more observations. Like in an epidemic of dengue we presume fever deaths due to dengue only. All observations studies come in this segment
- Arthāpatti (अर्थापत्ति) means postulation, derivation from circumstances.
- Anupalabdi (अनुपलब्धि) means non-perception, negative/cognitive proof based on principal negation or differential diagnosis. You rule out other causes and then presume an answer.
- Śabda (शब्द) means relying on word, testimony of past or present reliable experts. The interpretation is important but least reliable in terms of evidence.
Making false claims is unethical.
- MCI Ethics 6.8 (h) Endorsement: A medical practitioner shall not endorse any drug or product of the industry publically. Any study conducted on the efficacy or otherwise of such products shall be presented to and / or through appropriate scientific bodies or published in appropriate scientific journals in a proper way”.
- The Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act, 1954 is an Act of the Parliament of India which controls advertising of drugs in India. It prohibits advertisements of drugs and remedies that claim to have magical properties, and makes doing so a cognizable offence. The law prohibits advertising (claims) of drugs and remedies for inducing miscarriage or preventing conception in women, improving or maintaining the capacity for sexual pleasure, correction of menstrual disorders, curing, diagnosing or preventing any disease or condition mentioned in an included schedule (54 diseases under this restriction Appendicitis, Arteriosclerosis, Blindness, Blood poisoning, Bright’s disease, Cancer, Cataract, Deafness, Diabetes, Diseases and Disorders of brain, Diseases and Disorders of the optical system, Diseases and Disorders of the uterus, Disorders of menstrual flow, Disorders of the nervous system, Disorders of the prostatic gland, Dropsy, Epilepsy, Female diseases (in general), Fevers (in general),Fits, Form and structure of the female bust, Gall stones, kidney stones and bladder stones, Gangrene,Glaucoma, Goitre, Heart diseases, High/low blood pressure, Hydrocele, Hysteria, Infantile paralysis, Insanity, Leprosy, Leucoderma, Lockjaw, Locomotor ataxia, Lupus, Nervous debility, Obesity,Paralysis, Plague, Pleurisy, Pneumonia, Rheumatism, Ruptures, Sexual impotence, Smallpox, Stature of persons, Sterility in women, Trachoma, Tuberculosis, Tumours, Typhoid fever, Ulcers of the gastro-intestinal tract, Venereal diseases, including syphilis, gonorrhoea, soft chancre, venereal granuloma and lympho granuloma).
Spreading false news is punishable under Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 “Punishment for sending offensive messages through communication service etc.”, which states as follows: “Any person who sends, by means of a computer resource or a communication device-
(a) Any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character or
(b) Any information which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred or ill will, persistently by making use of such computer resource or a communication de4vice, or
(c) Any electronic mail or electronic mail message for the purpose causing annoyance or inconvenience or to deliver or to mislead the addressee or receipt about the origin of such messages, Shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with fine.
Explanation – For the purposes of this section, terms “electronic mail” and “electronic mail message” means a message or information created or transmitted or received on a computer, computer system, computer resource or communication device including attachments in text, image, audio, video and any other electronic record, which may be transmitted with the message.”
Identity theft, cheating by personation, sharing obscene material in electronic form are also punishable under the IT Act as follows:
- Section 66C of the IT Act, 2000: Punishment for identity theft- Whoever, fraudulently or dishonestly make use of the electronic signature, password or any other unique identification feature of any other person, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine with may extend to rupees one lakh.
- Section 66D of the IT Act, 2000: Punishment for cheating by personation by using computer resource – Whoever, by means for any communication device or computer resource cheats by personating, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine which may extend to one lakh rupees.
- Section 67 of the IT Act, 2000: Punishment for publishing or transmitting obscene material in electronic form – Whoever publishes or transmits or causes to be published or transmitted in the electronic form, any material which is lascivious or appeals to the prurient interest or if its effect is such as to tend to deprave and corrupt persons who are likely, having regard to all relevant circumstances, to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied in it, shall be punished on first conviction with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years and with fine which may extend to five lakh rupees and in the event of second or subsequent conviction with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to five years and also with fine which may extend to ten lakh rupees.
- Section 84B of IT Act, 2000: Punishment for abetment of offences: Whoever abets any offence shall, if the act abetted is committed in consequence of the abetment, and no express provision is made by this Act for punishment of such abetment, be punished with the punishment provided for the offence under this Act. Explanation – An act or offence is said to be committed in consequence of abetment, when it is committed in consequence if the instigation, or in pursuance of the conspiracy, or with the aide which constitutes the abetment.
- Section 84C of IT Act, 2000: Punishment for attempt to commit offences- Whoever attempts to commit an offence punishable by this Act or causes such an offence to be committed, and in such an attempt does any act towards the commission of the offence shall, where no express provision is made for the punishment of such attempt, be punished with imprisonment of any description provided for the offence, for a term which may extend to one-half of the longest term of imprisonment provided for that offence, or with such as is provided for the offence, or with both.
A person who spreads false news can also be prosecuted under various sections of the Indian Penal Code.
- Section 177 IPC: Furnishing false information.—Whoever, being legally bound to furnish information on any subject to any public servant, as such, furnishes, as true, information on the subject which he knows or has reason to believe to be false, shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine which may extend to one thousand rupees, or with both; or, if the information which he is legally bound to give respects the commission of an offence, or is required for the purpose of preventing the commission of an offence, or in order to the apprehension of an offender, with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.
- Section 416 IPC: A person is said to “cheat by personation” if he cheats by pretending to be some other person, or by knowingly substituting one person for another, or representing that he or any other person is a person other than he or such other person really is. Explanation.—The offence is committed whether the individual personated is a real or imaginary person.
- Section 419 IPC: Whoever cheats by personation shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.
- Section 499 IPC: A person who by words either spoken or intended to be read, or by signs or by visible representations, makes or publishes any imputation concerning any person intending to harm, or knowing or having reason to believe that such imputation will harm, the reputation of such person, is said, except in the cases hereinafter expected, to defame that person.
- Section 500 IPC: A person who defames another shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.
Fake news was named as the Word of the Year by Collins Dictionary in 2017.
Fake news is deliberate misinformation and disinformation not only in the social media but also in the regular mainstream media. The intent is to mislead.
Hence, it becomes extremely important to recognize fake news and differentiate it from genuine news.
There should be a law against fake news as it can generate social unrest in the community and polarize society into groups. Agitations may be an unwanted consequence of fake news