Mindless forwarding of WhatsApp texts leading to fake news menace, says Justice Kaul

Justice Kaul was speaking on the topic ‘Fake News and Misinformation’ at an online lecture series organised by Madras Bar Association.

Mindless and incessant forwarding of WhatsApp messages without verifying the correctness of such messages is leading to spread of fake news and many a time such messages assume racial and religious overtones, Supreme Court judge Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul said on Sunday.

The top court judge also made a case for individual discretion and responsibility with respect to verifying and sharing fake news as regulation of social media could result in restricting free speech. “Regulating social media  to counter such fake news could amount to violation of free speech and it is up to people to verify the correctness of the content of the message before spreading the same,” Justice Kaul said.

“Any regulation of social media may impinge on free speech and right to privacy. The struggle is to regulate social media without affecting free speech, so it is everybody’s responsibility to see that content is verified before it is sent,” he said.

Justice Kaul was speaking on the topic ‘Fake News and Misinformation’ at an online lecture series organised by Madras Bar Association.

“There are a lot of messages about Covid (coronavirus disease) including its ‘remedies’, the origin, people who are ‘helping spread of the virus’ and so on. These messages can take religious and racial undertones,” the SC judge warned.

Such information, Justice Kaul said, is many times the basis for petitions before the Supreme Court.

“Sometimes this misinformation leads people to believe in it so much so that there may be an Article 32 petition (petition filed directly in Supreme Court against violation of fundamental rights) to direct enforcement of a certain remedy for Covid,” Justice Kaul said.

Distinguishing between responsibility shown by the press and social media in the times of fake news, Justice Kaul said that while the press can be held accountable for such incorrect news, the same may not be possible with social media.

“When the press is writing, they are accountable. Writing news is their bread and butter, and they write with a certain sense of responsibility. But others may not have anything at stake and no accountability, no system of checks and balances,” he said.

Justice Kaul also pointed out that people are becoming increasingly intolerant of opinions that do not correspond with theirs and that differing opinions have to be respected in a democratic society.

“So people who hold opposing views may be called by each other as a ‘Modi Bhakt’ or an ‘Urban Naxal’ or other labels,” he said, adding that bedrock of any democracy is freedom of speech and it is important to respect others opinions in a democratic polity.

Source: Hindustan Times