Understanding misinformation in India: The case for a meaningful regulatory approach for social media platforms

Gandharv Dhruv Madan - IIM Indore

Understanding misinformation in India: The case for a meaningful regulatory approach for social media platforms


GANDHARV DHRUV MADAN, 25, BBA+MBA (IIM INDORE) BUSINESS MARKETING @ HCL TECHNOLOGIES

i15gandharvd@iimidr.ac.in, +91-9650022633

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY


This paper will examine misinformation in India – understanding its nature, the context in which it thrives and a brief note on the real-world consequences that are prompting discourses like this paper. Consequences and context, being the major themes driving this research effort. Why India as a society is a hotspot for misinformation, how social media platforms have failed the general public in their actions/inactions, and the business and sociological implications of the same. Covering the actions from platforms to mitigate harmful content, while understanding and rationalizing the options for future steps in this direction. On the government’s side, focus on the issue of changing/diluting the intermediary liability regime and the IT Act, which are currently ill-equipped to address online misinformation while threatening the democratic rights of free speech and privacy. The paper builds the argument for platforms to see regulation in their benefit and avoiding the typical capitalistic consequence of the ‘tragedy of commons’, along with the government to see platforms as an ally in their initiative to achieve sustainable and accountable public good. The paper makes its stand clear on the position and scope of government intervention that is required to address this situation by reinforcing existing research on regulation codes and social media practices. This paper makes a strong business and sociological argument for a joint public-private exercise in spearheading social media ‘self-regulation’. A partnership that will be anchored in democratic virtues of freedom of speech, active citizenry, etc., and driven in the interest of the industry for a technology-backed, future-ready process of redefining social media commerce.


THE MISINFORMATION PROBLEM


India is a misinformation-prone South Asian country. Although political misinformation is commonplace in India, it has often been overshadowed, or even accentuated, at times, by health and religious misinformation. Political misinformation only surges before or during important political events. [1] The existing political environment is responsible for political and other categories of misinformation. Two political conditions are usually conducive to misinformation: polarization of the society and populist communication. Both tendencies are present in contemporary India. In addition, low trust in news, weak public service media, a more fragmented audience, and high social media use can also be responsible factors for misinformation in India. [2] Interestingly, instead of taking a comprehensive and creative anti-misinformation initiative, the Indian government shuts down internet services quite often (95 times in 2019) [3]to cease misinformation. [4]


Moreover, the country’s law makes tracing the rumour-spreaders difficult. [5]Though a few digital interventions, such as chatbots and Aarogya Setu, have been seen during the pandemic to combat the proliferating misinformation problem, these are creating a crisis of trust among people in different ways. [6] India as a democracy has had a mixed and chaotic track record in combatting