Rumor Mongering

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Context:
  • WhatsApp, in India, has decided to put a cap on the number of chats one can forward a message to in one go. Users will be allowed to forward messages to only five chats at once as against 20 for the rest of the world.

 

ias4sure.com - Rumor Mongering

 
Facts:
  • WhatsApp noted that its users in India “forward more messages, photos, and videos, than any other country in the world”.
 
Govt Role in stoppings rumours:
  • The primary responsibility to fix this lies with law enforcement agencies. A mob takes the law into its hands if it believes that either law enforcement agencies are incapable/unwilling to help or that its crimes will go unpunished.
  • Law enforcement agencies shut down the Internet to prevent the forwarding of messages and possible riots. In 2017, according to data from the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC), India had 70 Internet shutdowns.
  • An Internet shutdown is a suspension of the constitutional right to free speech; a disproportionate act of censorship of all speech in response to the actions of a few.
  • The data suggest that there are no shutdowns in Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru, while smaller towns bear the brunt of such actions. The lack of capacity of law enforcement agencies in smaller towns to deal with these situations is a worrying sign, especially in the run-up to elections
  • State governments need to build law enforcement capacity and ensure prosecution in case of mob violence. A new law covering lynchings will be ineffective if our criminal justice system is incapable of enforcing the law.
 
Good Idea: What WhatsApp should do?
  • Messages between individuals should remain private and not be those that can be forwarded.
  • However, if a message creator wants to enable the forward ability of that message, the chat should be treated as public, and attributed with a unique ID linked to the original creator. This will allow WhatsApp to shut down such a message across its network once it is reported and identify the creator when a court-directed request is made by law enforcement agencies.
  • It’s important to remember that incorrect or false information is not illegal and people could be mistaken. It is messages with incitement of violence that need to be addressed.
 
So, the government, law enforcement agencies, and WhatsApp, need to come together mob violence and lynching.
 

Regulating Online Media

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Context:

  • The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B) has constituted 10-member committee to regulate online portals, including news websites, entertainment sites and media aggregators.
  • SC direction to government to get tough with social media platforms like FB, Youtube etc.

 

Committee:

  • The committee will look to bring online information dissemination under regulation.
  • It will propose policy for foreign direct investment (FDI) in this media.
  • It will to look at international best practices on such existing regulatory mechanism. 
  • It will cover print and electronic media as well as entertainment sites.

 

ias4sure.com - Regulating Online Media

 

 

Current Regulatory Mechanism:

  • At present both print and electronic media are regulated but online media (print and electronic media as well as entertainment sites) does not come under any regulatory mechanism.
  • The content telecast on television channels are regulated in terms of programme and advertisement codes under Cable Television Networks Rules, 1994.
  • Similarly, autonomous body Press Council of India (PCI) regulates the print media.
  • The social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter which are widely used for online information dissemination comes under purview of Department of Telecom, Ministry of Communications and IT and don’t fall in domain of I&B ministry, which looks at news, entertainment, infotainment, films and music.
  • Brainstorming over regulation of online news content had started because Government has felt that large numbers of people were depending on online media for news and that there should be some mechanism to check spread of misinformation (fake news) on the internet.

 

SC View:

  • Internet giants are not taking adequate steps to curb circulation of online videos of sexual violence against women and children.
  • Currently content removal requests are processed in about 36 hours. It should be brought down to less than 10 hours.

 

Whatsapp issue:

  • The Indian government and WhatsApp is at loggerheads over tracing the origin of fake messages.
  • The messaging platform has said it will not comply with the government’s demand as the move will undermine the privacy of WhatsApp users.
  • Arguments given by Whatsapp
    • People rely on WhatsApp for all kinds of sensitive conversations, including with their doctors, banks and families.
    • Building traceability would undermine end-to-end encryption and the private nature of WhatsApp, creating potential for serious misuse. WhatsApp will not weaken the privacy protections.
  • What the Government expects?
    • Given the increased instances of crime due to fake news circulated on various platforms, including WhatsApp, the government expects the company to continue to explore technical innovations whereby, in case of large-scale circulation of provocative and nefarious messages leading to violence and crime, the origin can be ascertained.
    • WhatsApp needs to set up an Indian corporate entity subject to Indian laws in a defined time frame.

 

 

Umesh Sinha Committee (Social Media Campaign)

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The Election Commission (EC) has constituted a committee headed by Umesh Sinha to suggest changes to Section 126 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 (RP Act) in view of social media expansion.

Section 126 of RP Act, 1951 prohibits displaying any election matter by means of television or similar apparatus, during the period of 48 hours before the hour fixed for conclusion of poll in a constituency. It does not include social and new media under its ambit.

Recommendations of Committee:

The committee has made the following recommendations:

  • Amendment to the Model Code of Conduct to ensure that political parties release their manifesto at least 72 hours before voting ends in the first phase of polls.
  • The provision of election silence, which prohibits any form of poll campaign in the last 48 hours leading up to voting to be extended to cover print and social media, internet, cable channels and online version of print media.
  • Social media platforms should work with the EC to evolve a mechanism by which the latter can flag content violating electoral law and social media sites can take it down as soon as possible.
  • EC should issue directions to private cable TV channels to follow NBSA guidelines for election broadcasts during the poll period.

The recommendations when implemented will help in minimizing the possible interference of activities which aim at indirectly influencing voters during the valuable silence period of 48 hours provided to them.