[Editorial Analysis] The disinformation detox

Mains Paper 2: Polity
Prelims level: Fundamental Rights
Mains level: Freedom of expression and speech in India


• Recently two very critical human rights events occurred in the Indian context.
• The SC warned against any clampdown on free speech.
• UNHRC Special Rapporteur submitted the report on “Disinformation and Freedom of Opinion and Expression”.

What is SC Judgment is about?

• The 3 judge SC bench declared that any clampdown on information on social media or harassment caused to individuals seeking/delivering help on any platform will attract a coercive exercise of jurisdiction by SC.
• It not just mandated the registrar to place the order before all district magistrates in the country but also directed the central and state govts to notify all chief secy/ DGPs.
• This suo motu coercive action may have spillover other proceedings.

UNHRC Report:

• It specifically speaks of information disorder that arises from disinformation which is politically polarizing, hinders people’s human rights exercising and destroys trust in govts.
• Human rights provide a powerful and appropriate framework to challenge falsehoods and present viewpoints and the freedom of opinion and expression enables governance and development,
• It is possible, doable and desirable to have a human rights friendly governance as it protects political power against it.
• On the backdrop of the internet shutdown, it also makes moderation of reactive content do not make any worthwhile difference due to the absence of lack of proper review of the business model that acts as drivers of mis/disinformation.
• In the context of global companies, Lack of transparency and access to data, discriminative policies fails to uphold human rights across all jurisdictions.
• The internet shutdowns do not curb disinformation rather hamper the fact-finding efforts and are likely to aim at silencing vulnerable section voices and depriving them of access to vital information.
• It unequivocally maintains that disinformation endangers the right to freedom of opinion and expression as it not also threatens the safety of journalists but also the media ecosystem.
• It also points that lack of clarity of mis/disinformation across the world.
• It defines misinformation as the dissemination of false information unknowingly.
• Where Disinformation is false information disseminated intentionally to cause serious social harm.
• It also acknowledges the fact that extremist or terrorist groups engage in the dissemination of false news and narratives to radicalize and recruits.
• At the same time, the report disfavors sledgehammer state response that creates human rights concerns.

Factors for growth of Disinformation:

• Technology or malicious actors
• Digital transformation and competition from online platforms
• State pressure and absence of robust public info regimes
• Digital media illiteracy among the general public

Underlying causes:

The disinformation uses the following social issues to spread rumors to de-stable society:
• Frustration and grievances of a growing number of people,
• Decades of economic deprivation,
• Market failures,
• Political disenfranchisement and social inequalities.
• Thus, disinformation is not the cause but the consequence of societal crisis and breakdown of public trust.
• The online disinformation also results in offline practices of violent social excursion on actually existing individuals and communities.
• Even fascinating is that oxford’s study showcases how certain govts use social media to spread computational propaganda and disinformation about politics.
• Cyber troops act as agents of political parties and tools for geopolitical influence.

Way ahead:

• The need is for a sustainable mix of regulatory with penal regimes that yield to the new criminological approach stressing decriminalization, de-penalization and deinstitutionalization.
• The need is for a serious review of the business model that underpins much of the drivers of disinformation and misinformation, to make moderation of reactive content effective and adequate.
• The anti-disinformation strategies will succeed only when the underlying factors are tackled.

Mains Questions:

Q.1) Discuss the need for a sustainable mix of regulatory with penal regimes to protect human rights in the increasing disinformation world.

Subscribe to Get Weekly updates

Get daily current affair video, detailed current affairs PPT for quick revision and Free One Liner PDF directly in your inbox. Subscribe now to get this month's one liner for FREE.