Why in News?
Upendra Baxi writes: Despite the threat of information disorder, human rights-friendly governance is both possible and doable.
Syllabus—GS2: Fundamental Rights
- Recently two very critical human rights events occurred in the Indian context.
- The SC warned against any clampdown on free speech.
- UNHRC Special Rapporteur submitted the report on “Disinformation & Freedom of Opinion & Expression”.
What is SC Judgment is about?
- The 3 judge SC bench declared that any clampdown on information on social media or harassment caused to individuals seeking/delivering help on any platform will attract a coercive exercise of jurisdiction by SC.
- It not just mandated the registrar to place the order before all district magistrates in the country but also directed the central & state govts to notify all chief secy/ DGPs.
- Although the judgment is COVID context but SC reinforces past precedents enshrining the principle that abuse of public power may not unreasonably or arbitrarily curb the freedom of speech, press & media platforms.
- This suo motu coercive action may have spillover other proceedings.
- It specifically speaks of information disorder that arises from disinformation which is politically polarizing, hinders people’s human rights exercising & destroys trust in govts.
- Human rights provide a powerful & appropriate framework to challenge falsehoods & present viewpoints & the freedom of opinion & expression enables governance & development,
- It is possible, doable & desirable to have a human rights friendly governance as it protects political power against it.
- On the backdrop of the internet shutdown, it also makes moderation of reactive content do not make any worthwhile difference due to the absence of lack of proper review of the business model that acts as drivers of mis/disinformation.
- In the context of global companies, Lack of transparency & access to data, discriminative policies fails to uphold human rights across all jurisdictions.
- The internet shutdowns do not curb disinformation rather hamper the fact-finding efforts & are likely to aim at silencing vulnerable section voices & depriving them of access to vital information.
- It unequivocally maintains that disinformation endangers the right to freedom of opinion & expression as it not also threatens the safety of journalists but also the media ecosystem.
- It also points that lack of clarity of mis/disinformation across the world.
- It defines misinformation as the dissemination of false information unknowingly.
- Where Disinformation is false information disseminated intentionally to cause serious social harm.
- It also acknowledges the fact that extremist or terrorist groups engage in the dissemination of false news & narratives to radicalize & recruits.
- At the same time, the report disfavors sledgehammer state response that creates human rights concerns.
Factors for growth of Disinformation:
- Technology or malicious actors
- Digital transformation & competition from online platforms
- State pressure & absence of robust public info regimes
- Digital media illiteracy among the general public
The disinformation uses the following social issues to spread rumors to de-stable society:
- Frustration & grievances of a growing number of people
- Decades of economic deprivation
- Market failures
Political disenfranchisement & social inequalities.
- The disinformation is not the cause but the consequence of societal crisis & breakdown of public trust.
- The online disinformation also results in offline practices of violent social excursion on actually existing individuals and communities.
- Even fascinating is that oxford’s study showcases how certain govts use social media to spread computational propaganda & disinformation about politics.
- Cyber troops act as agents of political parties & tools for geopolitical influence.
- Some authoritarian countries like Russia, Iran & China capitalized on COVID disinformation to amplify anti-democratic narratives.
Way forward: –
- The need is for a sustainable mix of regulatory with penal regimes that yield to the new criminological approach stressing decriminalization, de-penalization & deinstitutionalization.
- The need is for a serious review of the business model that underpins much of the drivers of disinformation & misinformation, to make moderation of reactive content effective & adequate.
- The anti-disinformation strategies will succeed only when the underlying factors are tackled.
Disinformation is thus not the “cause but the consequence of societal crises and the breakdown of public trust in institutions”. In the light of this statement discuss the strategies to “address disinformation”. How does one decide on a sustainable mix of regulatory with penal regimes? How may these yield to the new criminological approach stressing the three Ds — decriminalisation, de-penalisation and deinstitutionalisation?