The state government is working on a new law to tackle the menace of fake news and posts on social media, a move which comes against the backdrop of such posts stirring up trouble in many parts of the country, sources said.
A senior government official told The Indian Express, “A new law to handle these cases of fake news is what the state of West Bengal requires right now. There are some dirty tricks going on in the state. The drafting of the new law has been done and sent to the law department for perusal. This is being done sensitively — we of course don’t want West Bengal to become a totalitarian state. While fake news and inciting violence needs to be punished, simultaneously we need to preserve the freedom of expression and this has been kept in mind while drafting the law.”
A home department official told PTI that the state government intends to bring more clarity in terms of the nature of the offence and punishment for those responsible for spreading fake news and morphed photographs to disrupt communal harmony or spread hatred in society. The state government has been preparing a databank on fake news circulated on social media in West Bengal and other parts of the country in the past couple of years, besides keeping records of past offenders while framing the new law, he said.
The plan for the new legislation comes after several reports of fake news circulation surfacing in the state in the past couple of years. Fake news, morphed photographs, pictorial representation and write-ups posted on social networking sites could have major implications and require a strict law to deal with it, the officer said.
“There have been several incidents in recent times when posts on social media had major implications. Different sections of the Indian Penal Code are used to deal with cases depending on the nature of the crime or intent of the posts. But the state government is trying to formulate a law for strict actions against persons or the organisation found guilty of such activities,” he said.
Currently, in West Bengal, people who are found guilty of posting fake news and morphed photographs with the intent of causing fear or alarm among the public or commit an offence against the state or against public tranquillity are booked under Sections 505(1)(b) of the IPC, he said. IPC Section 505(1)(b) punishes those who intend to cause or are likely to cause fear or alarm among the public, or any section of the public whereby any person may be induced to commit an offence against the State or against the public tranquillity. IPC Section 504 applied for cases where “intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of peace” are found.
For drafting the law, the state government is taking assistance from the state police. The police have identified several paid Twitter handles and Facebook accounts which are constantly being used in different manner for such posts, the officer said. “They have also identified how funds are routed through different channels to pay these people who were handling fake Twitter handle and Facebook accounts and sharing fake news, photographs, pictorial representations and articles,” he said.
“But we need to find out whether the posts are made deliberately or inadvertently. We also need to find out whether the posts are made only for fun or there is any wrongful gain by the person. We have to find out the motive of the person and depending on that he would be charged,” he said.
with inputs from PTI