Supreme Court Justice Judge S. Ravindra Bhat believes legislation is needed to combat the spread of fake news and hate speech on social media. There should be legislation to address the issue, and when it doesn’t, there should be judicial intervention, the judge said while speaking at the Harvard India Conference last month.
He said the rapid spread of media over the internet is a “double-edged sword”. While social media has facilitated the dissemination of information, the concomitant increase in misinformation and fake news is an indirect challenge to freedom of speech and expression.
“In today’s era, characterized by easy and rapid proliferation of media via the internet, a retreating state and an overwhelming degree of privatization, freedom of speech and expression face far more insidious and indirect challenges. Unfortunately, the lack of stricter regulation or a legal framework governing the control and ownership of media houses has meant that private interests have a chilling effect and are beginning to dictate what is reported in the news in a double-edged sword. It has led to a democratization of expression by providing an accessible platform that enabled the cross-jurisdictional dissemination of debate and protest and unprecedented access to knowledge. But it has also made the spread of fake news and false narratives and hate speech much easier. It is imperative for us to protect and encourage the earlier and direct concerted efforts in the form of le gislation in the absence of judicial intervention to address the latter” said Judge Bhat.
Judge Bhat said the right to expression, discussion and dissent is at the heart of democratic discourse. “The power of art, be it theater or film or song or cartoon or even satire, to spread ideas is compelling. When these ideas are not acceptable to the influential and powerful, even in democracies they try to dampen them,” the judge said, adding that the courts acted primarily to protect this cherished right from prohibited state practices.
Recently, the Chief Justice of India, DY Chandrachud, also expressed concern about the rise of fake news and intolerance on the internet.
“We live in an age when people lack patience and tolerance. Just as humanity has expanded with the global advent of travel and technology, humanity has also retreated inward, unwilling to accept anything that we believe in ourselves as individuals. This is the challenge of our time. Some of this may be the product of technology itself. The truth has become a victim in the age of hoax,” CJI Chandrachud said at the American Bar Association conference last week.
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