In this fourth episode of our Digital Policy series in collaboration with The Dialogue, Manisha Pande speaks to Rishab Bailey, legal consultant at the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, Sarvjeet Singh, executive director and founding member of Centre for Communication Governance at the National Law University Delhi, and Udbhav Tiwari, public policy advisor at Mozilla, about what constitutes hate speech in Indian legislation and its relationship with the phenomenon of fake news.
Noting how vague India’s hate speech laws are, Bailey says, “We don’t have a catch-all hate speech category in the law. However, the courts have interpreted many of the existing laws to apply it to the internet.” Section 66A could broadly be interpreted as a hate speech law, he adds.
Speaking about the New Intermediary Liability Guidelines 2018, which the Indian government claims will help curb hate speech and fake news by placing the responsibility of censoring and removing offensive material to the platform hosting it, Singh highlights the need to distinguish between material that can objectively be classified as offensive and material that would entail more subjective enforcement. He draws attention to Facebook’s automated moderation efforts, noting how removing pornographic material is easier than tackling something as complex as bullying and hate speech.
On the issue of who needs to take responsibility for flagging fake news as being such, Tiwari insists that the responsibility for flagging blatantly false information shouldn’t fall on the platform hosting it. “getting respected and trusted third independent fact checkers may be a better approach to tackling the issue, although one that comes with its own set of problems,” he says. He goes on to note how several rightwing websites have been denied fact checking status, and how that has led to accusations of the fact checking systems coopted by the Left.
The discussion also delves into questions of accountability, who decides what fake news is, and issues of privacy that arise from the liabilities laws that may force platforms to go as far as to break end to end encryption.