Maharashtra: 852 cases filed for hate speech, spreading rumours on social media
A day after Mumbai Police commissioner Hemant Nagrale announced colour codes for vehicles plying within Mumbai, a rumour about police instructing petrol pumps to give fuel to only those who have essential service stickers, spread like fire. After the police helpline and Twitter handles were bombarded with queries, the police officially clarified that no such orders were issued to petrol pumps.
Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic last year, the number of fake news, rumours and doctored stories and videos doing rounds on social media has increased. The Maharashtra Police have been continuously battling the menace of misinformation being spread through social media and internet platforms. As a result, a total of 852 offences have been registered during the pandemic.
“All these agencies coordinated with each other and pulled down thousands of objectionable content and registered 852 offences in almost one year. Of these, 786 offences were cognisable in nature, while the rest were non-cognisable. Around 455 cases were of hate speeches,” said a senior police officer.
In these cases, 308 cases were related to misinformation on WhatsApp, 338 cases with Facebook, 28 cases linked Tiktok, 25 related to Twitter, and 27 linked to Instagram.
During the investigation of these cases, 342 accused were arrested and 680 are identified. Around 152 were served notice under section 41 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC). Preventive action has been taken as per section 107 of CrPC on 145 accused.
The content pulled down by police from social media also includes Covid-related videos from other countries with false messages, manipulated videos and photos of hospitals, crematoriums, videos of doctors, nurses and patients with false narratives, and forged and edited copies of government orders related to Covid.
Since Covid outbreak in March 2020, the state cyber police, special branch and cyber police station of Mumbai police are keeping a close watch on the spread of Covid and government orders related to rumours, hate message, communally sensitive content on social media platforms. All the district police in the state have also intensified vigilance on social media to prevent the spread of rumours to maintain law and order in their districts.
“There has also been an increase in Covid-related hate speeches, communally sensitive and inciting messages over social media in last one week,” said a senior police officer.
Sanjay Shintre, superintendent of police, state cyber police said, “As there was a buzz over Kumbh Mela gathering on social media recently and also ongoing Ramzan month, there is an obvious rise in hate speeches and increase in penetration of communally sensitive information on the internet, but we are keeping an effective check on such contents online and pulling them down before they make it to masses.”
A big chunk of misinformation is related to political issues. Even the hate speeches are mostly politics related. Some politicians express their opinions by crossing the limits and this triggers mudslinging. But we keep on the filter the content on social media platforms, Shintre added.
Cyber expert Ritesh Bhatia said, “Fake news has been thriving only because people have been believing in them and this is well proved by the fact that users forward such messages even without cross-checking the facts. The drop in fewer citizens getting vaccinated can be attributed to the fake news that has been doing rounds. Police and civic body both have been cautioning people about such misinformation, however, their reach is only limited to those users who are on social media.”
“Police and BMC should counter the fake news by right facts on the very same platform where these messages are spreading - WhatsApp being the most popular one. Many people, especially senior citizens, are neither on Twitter nor on Instagram nor Facebook. But they get loads of such fake news on WhatsApp. So, the government needs to first broadcast factual messages on WhatsApp and then other mediums. People are thrilled about forwarding misinformation but when they realise or are corrected, they feel embarrassed to forward the facts,” Bhatia added.