A case for regulating paid trolls and organised spread of fake news

Freedom of speech

The expanse of freedom of expression, a fundamental right is well known. Supreme Court struck down Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, which restricted online speech, as unconstitutional on grounds of violating the freedom of speech.  But can that justify paid trolling and organised spread of fake news. Paid trolling involves employment of trolls for a remuneration to propagate not their individual ideas or preferences but often to push a product or philosophy of the employer, in the name of trolls (and not in the name of employer). Assertion of an idea by large number of trolls, who may not believe the same, can mislead audience and influence them by sheer size. Freedom of speech surely does not permit that.

The unfortunate transition

Courtesy paid trolling and organised spread of fake news, for a section of society secularism, a basic structure of the Indian Constitution appears to be no more a cherished ideal. Acknowledging Indian pluralism runs the risk of being jeered as ‘Sickular’.

So profound seems to be the transition that spreading misinformation and rumours is the in thing. Any effort to rebut the same with facts and logic is construed as an affront not only to the rumour mongers (oops apologies, how else to describe!), but to the whole nation and earns you the title “anti-national”. How dared you to correct someone who celebrated UNESCO’s declaration of our national anthem as the best!

When confronted with allegations misconduct, presenting evidence and arguments to disapprove the same is not a requisite. It may suffice if it is shown that someone else (and better still the opponent) was also accused of similar delinquency.  This gets support of trolls, possibly the paid ones too. Resultantly, other person’s misconduct is seems to be now a justification for your wrong!

An orator used to be someone who mastered eloquent and skilled public speaking, so as to express clearly. Today cheap gesticulations and sneering (that could beat Hindi cinema’s vamp portrayals by iconic Lalita Pawar and Manorama), with due backing from trolls, qualifies as oratory.

Opinions need not be based on fair assessment, but are biased histrionics, often to support the paymaster. To troll those expressing independent views, is usual. Manufacturing and spreading fake contents, lame political jokes and trolling is flourishing.

Most of us grew up thinking Patel, Bose and Ambedakar to be heroes and came across institutions and streets named after them. The narrative now shows them to be victims of dynast Nehru (oh yes he dreamt of leaving a progeny that would refuse to let go power). Nehru, the other erstwhile hero known hitherto for contribution to building modern India, is transforming into philanderer (that too because he is seen hugging his sister or niece). So the concept of philanderer itself is altered!

The upside

The change seems to bring some advantage too! There is an emerging industry and mushrooming IT cells.  Mass recruitments appear to be done to generate and propagate misinformation and to troll inconvenient ideas. And yes the mindless forwards and shares social media are good news for data companies.  But does that help build a civilised order?

The escape route

For those not pleased with the shift, yes there is a way out.

One, legislate special laws to regulate IT Cells and the like, ban and punish organised spread of misinformation and paid trolling. Those who may oppose the move would stand out as the beneficiary of the evolving order.

Second, introduce formal teachings to enable pupil to have independent view and appreciate reason and logic, and not be lead by fake brigade. This is critical to implement right to education and integral to freedom of speech.

 

Smita Singh 
on 27 October 2018
Published in Others
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