India Has 75 Crore Internet Connections, Over Half Joined in Last 4 Years. But What About Fake News?
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While 2020 would be remembered for many remarkable things like the emergence of an unprecedented pandemic or the entire nations surviving simultaneous lockdowns, some would also remember it to be the year when India completed 25 years of having the internet.
In fact, not only did India complete 25 years of having internet in 2020, it also marked a distinct growth in the number of connections which crossed the 75 crore milestone in August 2020.
According to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), the surge took place in the last four years since 2016 when the number of internet connections was barely at 32 crore. The total number of connections has more than doubled since Times of India reported.
The spike in connections coincided with the Indian government's "Digital India" campaign which began in 2016 and was one of the BJP-led government's flagship initiatives to ensure delivery of its services across the country.
The increase in internet penetration across the country, however, has not come without a price.
The past few years have also seen an increase in fake news and misinformation on social media. India had the largest number of social media users in the world. And despite government crackdown and a string of self-regulatory measures by social media companies and telecom providers, dissemination of fake news has continued without hamper.
In India, the spread of fake news or inciteful content through social media has led to some horrific results including public lynchings, mobs and violence. In 2018, a series of persons were killed by mobs following rumours of child kidnapping spread over WhatsApp messages in what has now come to be known as the "WhatsApp lynchings".
Social media has also become a ripe platform for spreading communitarian and sectarian hate as well as misogyny.
The coronavirus and the ensuing lockdown has also led to a spike in the ill uses of the internet. As per a report in Indiaspend in May, experts had noted a spike in fake news as early as April, soon after the Indian government announced the coronavirus lockdown.
In wake of investigations into the Delhi riots in February, the Centre in October informed the Delhi High Court that it had set up regulations to look into fake news and that it had framed adequate guidelines under the Information and Technology (Intermediary Guidelines) Rules. Governments at state level have also looked into the issue of hate on social media.
Critics, however, agree that influential leaders continue to hijack free speech policies of the platforms and use them to spread hate and disinformation.