Maharashtra Police has registered 400 cyber crime cases linked to Covid-19 and related issues till now. A large chunk of these cases pertain to hate speech and attempt to give a communal angle to the pandemic, said police officials.
Since the beginning of the lockdown in the state, Maharashtra Cyber — the cyber crime and cyber security agency of Maharashtra Police — has been tasked to keep a watch on the spread of misinformation, rumours and fake news about Covid-19 on Internet-based platforms, in coordination with cyber crime units in individual police jurisdictions across the state. As on Wednesday, as many as 400 offences have been registered in Maharashtra and 213 persons have been arrested.
Officials said of the 400 cases, 234 pertain to some kind of hate speech or attempts to give communal colour to the spread of the infection or issues linked to it. A large number of these hate speech cases stem from the Covid-19 cases linked to the Tablighi Jamaat meet in Delhi, which turned out to be a hotpsot for the infection, and the subsequent accusations and counter-accusations. “The hate messages in registered cases have come from people from both communities,” said a senior officer.
“In the beginning, we had observed a surge in hate speech cases and those are being reported even today. These hate speech cases are communal in nature. We have adopted a no-tolerance policy towards hate speech, fake news and misinformation. These type of messages on the online platforms are potential precursors to serious law and order issues. Maharashtra Cyber is keeping a close watch on cases of hate speech, fake news and reporting them to cyber crime units in individual jurisdictions for further action. Take-down notices are being issued to all concerned platforms of social media and removal process is continuously on”, said Superintendent of Police with Maharashtra Cyber, Dr. Balsing Rajput.
He added, “While hate speech cases continue to get reported, there are also cases pertaining to misinformation about lockdown-related issues and employment opportunities. We have come across malicious messages being circulated with intention to cheat people. A prohibitory notice applicable across Maharashtra has been issued against circulating offensive, abusive, defamatory or malicious posts about Covid-19 and connected issues. Posting any such messages on Internet-based platforms is prosecutable under the Information Technology Act.”
The numbers shared by Maharashtra Cyber show that of the 400 cases, certain police jurisdictions have registered very high number of cases, including Beed (40), Pune Rural (31), Jalgaon (29), Mumbai (21), Kolhapur (16), Nashik Rural (16).
Officials maintained that higher number of cases in particular jurisdictions are a result of more people coming forward to report them, as well as the role played by local cyber units in getting these cases registered. Of the 400 cases, 169 are about messages on WhatsApp, 157 about Facebook posts, 18 on Tik-Tok, seven on Twitter and four on Instagram.
Spike in cheating cases under garb of home delivery
According to Maharashtra Cyber officials, there have been increasing cases of people being cheated through online transactions on the pretext of home delivery of food, alcohol or other items. “We have observed that cyber fraudsters create new web pages resembling names of shops, home delivery services, etc to lure people into making online transactions on the pretext of purchases. We are making an appeal to people to cross- check all the details of the platform before making any payments. This is yet another way in which cyber criminals are exploiting the vulnerabilities of people during the Covid-19 crisis,” said an official.
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