The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (hereinafter referred to as “MeitY”) vide its Notification No. 42015/2/2019-BCIII dated April 1st 2020 (hereinafter referred to as “Notification”) has requested for the recent Supreme Court of India Judgement in Writ Petition (Civil) No. 468/2020 concerning, false news/misinformation on corona virus, to be disseminated to all stakeholders for appropriate action.
The Corona Virus (hereinafter referred to as “Covid 19”) outbreak has been recognized as a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (hereinafter referred to as “WHO”), as well as the Government of India. Social distancing is unequivocally the best way to contain its spread which has led to a three-week long nationwide lockdown. Countries across the world are trying their best to mitigate the spread of corona virus. However, it has been reported in media that there is a trend of circulation of misinformation/false news and sharing anonymous data related to corona virus in various social media platforms creating panic among public.
In light of the above the MeitY vide its recent Notification No. 16(1) / 2020-CLES dated 20th March 2020 (hereinafter referred to as “Advisory”) had advised social media platforms to curb false news/misinformation with regard to corona virus.
The Information Technology Act, 2000 (hereinafter referred to as “IT Act”) under section 2(1)(w) defines ‘Intermediary’ as follows:
“any person who on behalf of another person receives, stores or transmits that record or provides any service with respect to that record and includes telecom service providers, web- housing service providers, search engines, online payment sites, online auction sites, online market places and cyber cafes”.
Social Media platforms, as such fall under the definition of intermediaries and are required to follow ‘due diligence’ as prescribed under the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines) Rules, 2011 (hereinafter referred to as “IT Rules”) notified under section 79 of the IT Act.
They must inform their users not to host, display, upload, modify, publish, transmit, update or share any information that may affect public order and unlawful in any way.
Therefore, as per the Advisory the Social Media platforms are directed to:
i) Initiate awareness campaign on their platforms for the users not to upload / circulate any false news / misinformation concerning corona virus which are likely to create panic among public and disturb the public order and social tranquility;
ii) Take immediate action to disable / remove such content hosted on their platforms on priority basis;
iii) Promote dissemination of authentic information related to corona virus as far as possible.
Pursuant to the declaration of general countrywide lockdown by the Prime Minister a large number of migrant workers tried to walk across highways to reach their home-states in fear due to fake news that this lockdown would last three months.
Petitions were filed seeking the Apex Court’s intervention and requesting direction to the Government of India with respect to providing shelter, food, clean drinking water and medicines to these migrant labourers.
The Supreme Court of India Judgement in Writ Petition (Civil) No. 468/2020 issued the following directions: