The West Bengal 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 trouble and unrest in many parts of the country. A Home Department official told PTI that the state government intends to bring more clarity on the nature of the offence and punishment for those responsible for spreading fake news and posting morphed photographs with an aim to disrupt peace and communal harmony or spread hatred in society. The state government has been preparing a data bank 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 new legislation comes after several reports of fake news circulation surfacing in the state during the last couple of years. The recent incidents in Shillong, Godda in Jharkhand and Karbi Anglong district of Assam have added to the concern. Fake news, morphed photographs, pictorial representation and write-ups posted on social networking sites could have major implications which can create unrest among the people and require strict law to deal with it, the officer said.
“There are several incidents in recent times when posts on social media had major implications. Different sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) 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 responsible for 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 Indian Penal Code (IPC), he said. The IPC section 505(1)(b) punishes those who intent to cause or 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.
The IPC section 504 is also applied for cases where “intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of peace” are found. In the process of the drafting the law, the state government is taking assistance from the West Bengal Police. Police have identified several paid Twitter handles and Facebook accounts which are constantly being used in different manner for such posts, he 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. Last July, the state police had arrested Bhabatosh Chatterjee from Sonarpur in South 24 Parganas district for his alleged involvement in inciting communal violence at a time when incidents of clashes were reported from Basirhat.
Police found that Chatterjee had allegedly uploaded a still of a Bhojpuri film showing a man forcibly pulling a woman’s saree and claiming it to have happened in Basirhat and Baduria in July last. Last week also, a fake notification purportedly issued by the state finance department on a letterhead with the Biswa Bangla logo stating that the state government has declared holidays for five days, from June 12 to June 16, to celebrate the Eid festival, started doing the rounds.
Declaring it to be fake, the Kolkata Police started a probe into the matter. “A separate law for this purpose will help us in dealing with posts on social networking sites violating norms and disturbing harmony in society. This will give us a clarity in understanding the nature of crime or the intention of the person responsible for his or her posts as well as bringing charges against him,” he said.