The Tuesday session of the Indian Democracy at Work Conference 2021 on Rule of Law saw a distinguished panel deliberate on Fake News: Threat to Democracy. Shri. AbhinandanSekhri, Co-founder of News Laundry moderated the session,Mr. Carlos Hernández- Echevarría, Head of Public Policy and Institutional Development, MALDITA, Spain and Shri. Jayaprakash Narayana, Retd. IAS and founder of Foundation for Democratic Reforms participated.
The interesting deliberative session was opened by Mr. Abhinandan Sekhri who said that spreading false information in order to further the agenda of vested interests is on the rise and can pose threat to democracy. He cited the recent behavior of former President Donald Trump as a danger to democracy. The Covid-19 pandemic also showed numerous situations where false information was perpetuated on the web. Tremendous amount of damage can be done when false information is spread which can spread divisions and polarization in a society. The discussion was what can be done about this.
Mr. Carlos Hernandez answered that false information can be only countered with truths and fact-checking. A lot of people now realizing the damage done by fake news, are looking into ways of fact-checking and presenting as a counter to fake news.
Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan said it is difficult to completely control the weaponization of fake news but said certain measures can be adopted to have some control in the beginning and later as more avenues are available more measures can be adopted. In democracies some amount of licence with truth is inevitable. Society and more responsible media can counter lies with facts. But there are three types of lies and fake news that need effective regulation. 1. Lies that spread hatred and violence. 2. Verifiable lies that can cause imminent danger to society and mankind. eg: Denial of Covid pandemic; spread of misinformation discovering vaccination; lies about global warming making responsible action difficult. 3. Trump-like lies that undermine Constitutional order and democracy. In respect of these three lies and fake news all civilizations should come together and evolve effective mechanisms to curb fake news. He suggested, the influential figures or people that have certain number of followers can be observed closely to check the truthfulness of their communication. The context is also right to promulgate some regulation, especially, after the COVID-19 pandemic and the circulation of fake news and the political drama in America. He also said as this fake news originates in one country and affects people in other countries, some kind of transnational regulations are required.
Mr. Sekhri suggested that European Union can quickly move on this issue and start trans-national regulations to fight fake news. Numerous questions were asked by participants as to how to control the menace of fake news and false information. Does spreading fake news become part of freedom of speech? Definitely not, a fact is a fact, one can have interpretations and perceptions of a event. But facts and truth should be presented in the society.