April 10, 2020 8:40:47 pm
Police are facing a dual challenge during the lockdown imposed in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic: to prevent the spread of infection and to curb the spread of fake news and hate speech on social media.
To address the latter challenge, the Gujarat Police has introduced a citizen-based campaign to report and deter cyber-crimes, especially rumour mongering, hate speech and fake news related to the pandemic.
In this initiative, the state police will be assisted by a team which is divided into three: cyber volunteers, cyber warriors and cyber gurus.
Headed by state CID Crime, the Gujarat police has invited citizens to submit basic details about themselves including their social media accounts in order to create a database of “online vigilantes”.
According to police, the three categories of “online vigilantes” will be entrusted with different kinds of responsibilities that include identifying and reporting cyber-crime, preventing them in coordination with police and also training the police staff.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Shamsher Singh, the additional director general of police (ADGP) State CID Crime, said, “We had received an advisory recently from the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) asking each state to create a portal where people can report cyber crime. In that regard, we have created a three-layer system of citizen volunteers.”
The cyber volunteers will include people who have basic understanding of the internet and smart phones. “They will be able to report incidents of fake news, rumour mongering and hate speech to the local police station or district level police,” Singh said.
The second category — cyber warriors — consists of people with the expertise of the internet and usage of social media and who can coordinate with the district level Cyber Crime Cells to detect and prevent cyber-crime, he added.
“Cyber gurus are software engineers, IT experts and professionals, who have expertise in the field of online fraud and other categories of cyber crime. They can also train our police staff and assist in research and development as the nature of cyber crime is ever evolving. The cyber gurus will coordinate with the state CID Crime team. There is no remuneration involved in this,” he said.
As many as 100 FIRs under the Information Technology act and Epidemic Diseases Act has been registered in the state in connection with spread of fake news and hate speech related to COVID-19, Singh said.
The Gujarat Director General of Police Shivanand Jha said on Friday that the police have been able to block at least 164 social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tiktok for spreading fake news and hate speech related to the pandemic since March 21.
“Many a times, people do not come forward to report cyber crime despite being the victim. The cyber volunteers and cyber warriors will help such people to come forward and inform the police. Reporting such crimes will only help us to deter future incidents of cyber crime from happening. Even a single FIR in a district will send a strong message to the public that you cannot take these things lightly,” said Singh.
The Gujarat Police is also preparing an online fact-checking portal for the people to check the authenticity of any video, audio clip or a text message they see on social media.
“Moreover, admins of WhatsApp groups have also been asked to inform the authorities if they come across any instance of fake news or hate speech. If they keep quiet then, they will also be made party to the crime,” said Singh.
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