As the Indian law enforcement agencies struggle to tame social media misuse as organised political misinformation campaigns via targeted messaging on social media, the US and the UK have created some robust systems, although not foolproof yet, to check and stop such misinformation war, including penalising social networks for failing to stem the rot.
The online misinformation campaign that former President Donald Trump's political war room ran on Facebook in the 2016 US elections for the first time alerted governments the world over how social media can be misused by political parties to swing votes.
According to a latest policy paper by The Stimson Center, a US-based non-profit think tank, researchers believe that organised social media misinformation campaigns have operated in at least 81 countries, a trend that continues to grow yearly, with a sizable number of state-backed and private corporation manipulation efforts.
"Social media's enormous impact is unmistakable. Facebook sees approximately 300 million new photos uploaded daily, while six thousand Tweets are sent every second. The most popular YouTube channels receive over 14 billion views weekly, while the messaging app Telegram boasts over 500 million users. Such platforms have also been used to promote instability, provide platforms for the spread of political conflict, and call for violence," according to the paper.
The US, the UK and the European Union (EU) have penalised social media platforms several times for their failure to stem the spread of misinformation and fake news. The social networks have tweaked their platforms according to the law of the land, which is yet to be seen in India where there is no single, robust law to deal with the menace.
In 2019, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) slapped a record-breaking $5 billion fine on Facebook (now Meta) over deceiving users about their ability to control the privacy of their users' personal information.
"Despite repeated promises to its billions of users worldwide that they could control how their personal information is shared, Facebook undermined consumers' choices," said FTC Chairman Joe Simons. The relief is designed not only to punish future violations but, more importantly, to change Facebook's entire privacy culture to decrease the likelihood of continued violations".
Since then, several states in the US have taken strict action against social media platforms over privacy violations and failure to stop the spread of misinformation. The UK and the EU have followed suit, resulting in millions of dollars in penalties against WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook.
Unlike the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (EU GDPR), and tougher cyber laws in countries like Singapore, South Korea and Australia, the Indian government is using several agencies to tame social media platforms that separately deals with Big Tech, hence give them the leeway to keep violating the law of the land.
As and when the platforms are served notices under the available laws (like Section 69A of the IT Act, 2000) to remove controversial content, they immediately knock at the door of the courts, resulting in zero action.
Cyber expert Amit Dubey told IANS that he has seen a spike in hate speech on Facebook and Instagram.
"Every day we are receiving hundreds of complaints where people are threatened and abused on social media platforms. When we report such content, it takes weeks to take it down while its impact is instant which gets shared through many other platforms for years. It's so easy to destroy the credibility of someone with just one post," Dubey told IANS.
"Now this is high time we need a specific law for cyber bullying, cyber defamation and hate speech," he emphasised.
According to cyber law expert Virag Gupta, social media platforms are maintaining high standards of privacy and security in the European Union and the US but the same are ignored in India.
"Supreme Court judges, while hearing the WhatsApp matter, rightly remarked that the privacy issue has been debated for many years yet the government is failing to bring the law," Gupta told IANS.
As per the statement given by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta in the WhatsApp matter, the government may have to enact a data protection and privacy law before the next date of hearing in January 2023.
"As rightly said by the solicitor general, such laws ought to be citizen-centric. Let us hope that the government will complete all the consultation and enact the law along with strengthening the regulator at the earliest. It will ensure data protection of 60 crore users as well as strict regulation of social media platforms and tech giants operating in India," Gupta noted.