Governments are cracking down hard on “fake news” with hundreds of people around the world being arrested as a measure to curb the spread of fake news on social media. However, legal experts around the world are worried that governments will use this pandemic as an excuse to curb dissent. They are also worried about the potential human rights violations that may occur as a result of rampant arrests while also warning that arrests will not help in curbing the spread of misinformation.
For instance, India has 451 million monthly active internet users, according to a 2019 report, and 400 million WhatsApp users, making it the company’s largest market. WhatsApp has been one of the key platforms for spreading disinformation in India—to such a degree that the company in 2018 limited how many times a message can be forwarded after a spate of mob killings driven by rumors spread on the platform.
Arresting people randomly for forwarding a fake Whatsapp message will not curb the spread of fake news since, due to the sheer volume of users, it is impossible to track the original source and these arrests will then serve no actual purpose.
Worried by this trend and alarmed by the various news reports of arrests occuring in most States across the country we wrote to the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs to urge them to issue an advisory against such arrests in India and to create a SOP to handle misinformation related to COVID-19.
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