COVID – 19 and fake news

Akshat Tripathi


Manipulation  of algorithms of social media and search engines in order to reach large audience and mislead news consumers is being becoming a global trend, stories with morphed media logos, bots ,paid commentators  for maintaining online reputation using the medium of fake news in order to clamp down on free speech, restricting citizens to exercise freedom of speech and expression. Fake news is categorized under disinformation as it is not a one dimensional problem involving different angles including political ones, news media, civil society actors. According to the high level expert group on fake news and online disinformation established by the European commission on disinformation, it includes all forms of false, inaccurate or misleading information designed, presented and promoted   to intentionally cause public outrage, riots and disbelief in the society. Moreover since the economy is in progression since the last decade the rapid expansion of new technologies platforms and all the development of algorithm driven news distribution platforms blurred the boundaries in the media ecosystem and have merged the role of content editors, news gatekeepers and of curators of news distribution.  In a democratic space, there have been constant pressures from policymakers on services nonetheless nothing has been built up towards the accountability of the user or platform proprietors. Thus it has become quite deterrent that fake has became a global concern since the rise of   unpleasant incidents that  have challenged the users in the news. Since social media has gained popularity among the 2.95 billion people it plays a major role in forming public opinions during the elections, that as triggered during the last US presidential elections.. Amid an unprecedented global health crisis, many journalists, policy makers and academics have echoed the WHO and stressed the misinformation about the pandemic presents a serious risk to public health and public action. The world has been alarmed for over the last 3 months  by the growing scare of COVID-19, everyday the outbreak has been in the news with over 3.58 million cases of which 1.16 million recovered and the death toll stands at 2,51,000 as per the statistics published by WHO till 4th of may. Panic and anxiety have driven masses all around more over with travel and immigration restrictions being enforced all over the world is driving citizens demented.

COVID-19 spread to almost 212 countries with more and more people forced to stay home during quarantine and as a sequelae of it internet usage is capriole . Tensions have always been a breeding ground of information operations. The COVID19 pandemic has provided such rancorous actors with a ready made context to order to cause coax and disruption in the society in order to seek profit by taking advantage of vulnerable individuals. As the world is brawling with a pandemic, the authorities are forced to face an spate of misinformation about the virus on digital platforms. Some specimens of the fake that were recorded in the recent past are:

  • Fatwa in Saudi Arabia; men can eat women when hungry. (Aaj tak)
  • Salt shortage rumors. (November 2016)
  • UNESCO has declared “Jana Gana Mana” best national anthem\. (Watsapp)
  • Dawood properties worth 15000 crore seized in dubai.( Zee news)
  • Muzzafarnagar riots of 2013; fake videos fuelled communal passions.

Recent Incidents

  • In Maharashtra the police registered as many as total 51 cases across the state against various individuals spreading the fake news, rumours and false claims concerning the pandemic. In a newspaper dated on 13th of march it claimed that the mattresses could cure COVID-19 resulting in FIR being launched against the owner of the mattresses company.
  • Rise of  Islamophobia, with a growing number of deaths and infections due to corona virus fear and speculation has been on the rise and only with it islamophobia is also simmering. Some of the threads pertaining to such are:
  • Muslim vendor spitting on fruits to spread virus: The video shot in Raisen, MP circulated on social media after the tablighi jamaat fiasco with many prominent rightwing as well as liberals voices started attacking the community for deliberately spreading the corona virus. A fact check by ALT news revealed that the video was shot far back in February. In fact no corona cases have been reported from Raisen yet, the video seemed out of context even though some of the channels picking up the story of Corona-criminal.
  • Hindus denied rations Karachi: Several photos and videos of hindus staying in Pakistan were denied ration and were being discriminated in Rehri  goth. However all of this was debunked by Pakistani English newspaper THE NEWS INTERNATIONAL which the claimed the news is baseless, providing an insight to the situation it claimed that the supplies ran out, not just hindu people from all the religion were denied were unable to get food. Rumours  act as lethal weapon that effects the morale of the people. The law enforcement bodies posses powers granted by the constitution of India  to take legal action against anyone who ought to spread goss about the virus.

Legal Provisons

  • Section 505(1) of IPC, 1860: punishment for making, publishing. Or circulating any statement, rumour or report which may lead to cause fear or alarm public.
  • Section 66D of IT ACT, 2000: whoever by means for any communication device or PC cheats by personating.
  • Section 54 of the DMA ACT (disaster management act),2006: Whoever makes or circulates a false alarm or warning as to disaster or its magnitude leading to panic in public.
  • Section 3 of the EDA ACT ( epidemic of disease act),1897: Any person disobeying the any regulation that has been done with respect to the pandemic deemed to have commit an offence under section 188 of IPC.
  • Section 499 and 500 where the civil or criminal cases can be filed for defamation is another resort against fake news: Whoever defames another person shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, fine or both.
  • Section 153 and 295, giving provocation with intent to cause riot and injuring or defiling place of worship with intent to insult the religion of any caste.

Media and Fake News

With such laws constituted and government authorities such as Press council of India(PCI), News broadcasters association(NBA), Indian broadcast foundation(IBF), the government tend to exercise an higher degree of control but India being one of the largest democracies overflow of content makes it difficult for the people to shift from fake to real ones and the majority of this is slick to social media. In light of this , the Indian government issued a directive to all social media companies on Friday, 20th march asking them to prevent sharing of fake news on their platform. An insight of some of the largest media players in India of what they are doing to prevent this:

  • Facebook: Being one of the largest social media giant, it stated once a particular article is stated false it will “limit its spread” All the searches with respect to the corona virus will link the users to official content on WHOs platform. The company banned the ads of face masks or any business looking to cash in on the corona keyword and assigned credits to the ministry departments.
  • Twitter: The microblogging platform has immense influence on Indian citizens. Twitter partnered with WHO and ministry of health and family welfare to raise awareness by providing authentic information. It launched a dedicated COVID-19 event page in English and hindi, ensure efficient coordination with trusted partner including public health authorities and government to consult information for sources when reviewing content.


 Countering content manipulation and fake news to restore faith in social media without undermining internet and social media freedom will require public attention, strengthening of regulations and tech companies to come up with suitable authenticated algorithms for news  dominie, Italy added “recognizing fake news in school syllabus after the pandemic shook the economy, Karnataka launched fact check website to identify and authenticate fake news, Andhra Pradesh did same  so that suffering could be sufficed resulting in articulation of Globe.  Some simple steps that can be taken by all are:

  • Ascertaining the source  and origin of message.
  • Conduct secondary checks on google.
  • Usage of fact checking servives.
  • Development of healthy skepticism content towards social media.

These simple measures can go a long way in the fight against fake news amidst of the pandemic.


  1. Khushbu Jain and Brijesh singh, ‘Disinformation in the times of pandemic and the laws around it’. (3rd April,2020).  Accessed on 4th may, 2020
  2. During this coronavirus pandemic, ’fake news’ is putting lives at risk: UNESCO.( 13th April, 2020). Accessed on 1st May, 2020
  3. Subimal Bhattacharjee , ‘Fighting fake news amidst Covid-19’. (2ND April, 2020). Accessed on 4th may ,2020.
  4. Ellie Bothwell, ‘ fake news laws may catch on during corona virus’.(6th April, 2020). Accessed on 2nd may, 2020.
  5. The problem of fake news in india: issues, concerns  and regulations.( 6th September, 2019). Accessed on 30th  April,2020.
  6. Ritika jain, ‘Covid-19: How fake news and Modi government messaging fuelled India latest spiral of Islamophobia’( 21st April,2020).  Accessed on 5th may,2020.
  7. Shouvik das, ‘ Fighting fake news on Covid-19: What Indian social media Companies are doing’.(27th March,2020). Accessed on 7th may, 2020.
  8. Peter suciu, ‘COVID-19 misinformation remains difficult to stop on social media’. (17th april,2020). Accessed on 6th may,2020.
  9. Antigoni themistokeous, ‘ The role of national Authorities in tackling disinformation’. (2nd August,2019). Acceseed on 1st may,2020.

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