Lynching- Register FIRs Against Those Found Spreading Inciting Messages On Social Media: SC [Read Judgment]

Lynching- Register FIRs Against Those Found Spreading Inciting Messages On Social Media: SC [Read Judgment]

The Supreme Court on Tuesday lamented the growing instances of lynching and mob violence in the country, and asserted that it is the State’s duty to ensure efficient functioning of the law and order situation.

In doing so, the Bench comprising Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, Justice A.M. Khanwilkar and Justice D.Y. Chandrachud also took into account the contribution of inciting or false messages and videos to the instigation of crowds.

It, in fact, directed registration of FIRs under Section 153A of the IPC (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc.) and other relevant provisions of law against people “who disseminate irresponsible and explosive messages and videos having content which is likely to incite mob violence and lynching of any kind”.

The Court further asserted that it was the duty of the Centre as well as State Governments to prevent dissemination of such content, observing, “It shall be the duty of the Central Government as well as the State Governments to take steps to curb and stop dissemination of irresponsible and explosive messages, videos and other material on various social media platforms which have a tendency to incite mob violence and lynching of any kind.”

The Court’s observations assume significance in the light of growing instances of mob lynchings fuelled by fake social media messages. For instance, dozens have been killed in the country in the last few months in violence fuelled by WhatsApp messages claiming child-traffickers to be on the loose. While authorities are struggling to curb the growing technology-driven menace, the Supreme Court has now stepped in with a few directives, responding to several petitions, including those filed by Congress leader Tehseen Poonawalla and Mahatma Gandhi’s great-grandson, Tushar Gandhi.

Growing into a Tphon-like monster

The Apex Court began by highlighting the enormity and the gravity of issue at hand, blaming “intolerance” and circulation of fake messages for driving crowds into a frenzy. It asserted, “Lynching and mob violence are creeping threats that may gradually take the shape of a Typhon-like monster as evidenced in the wake of the rising wave of incidents of recurring patterns by frenzied mobs across the country instigated by intolerance and misinformed by circulation of fake news and false stories.” 

It further lamented the growing intolerance in the country, and blamed the circulation of fake news on social media, among other things, for making matters worse. It explained, “Besides, bystander apathy, numbness of the mute spectators of the scene of the crime, inertia of the law enforcing machinery to prevent such crimes and nip them in the bud and grandstanding of the incident by the perpetrators of the crimes including in the social media aggravates the entire problem. One must constantly remind oneself that an attitude of morbid intolerance is absolutely intolerable and agonisingly painful.”

Court’s directives to Check Inciting/ Fake Messages

The Court has directed designation of a senior police officer, not below the rank of Superintendent of Police, as Nodal Officer in each district. Assisted by one of the DSP rank officers in the district, the Nodal Officer has been tasked with procuring intelligence reports about the people who are likely to commit such crimes or who are involved in spreading hate speeches, provocative statements and fake news. The direction reads:

“The State Governments shall designate, a senior police officer, not below the rank of Superintendent of Police, as Nodal Officer in each district. Such Nodal Officer shall be assisted by one of the DSP rank officers in the district for taking measures to prevent incidents of mob violence and lynching. They shall constitute a special task force so as to procure intelligence reports about the people who are likely to commit such crimes or who are involved in spreading hate speeches, provocative statements and fake news.”

The Nodal Officer is also required to hold regular meetings (at least once a month), with the local intelligence units and all Station House Officers of the district, to discuss steps for prohibition of dissemination of offensive material through different social media platforms. The direction states:

“The Nodal Officer, so designated, shall hold regular meetings (at least once a month) with the local intelligence units in the district along with all Station House Officers of the district so as to identify the existence of the tendencies of vigilantism, mob violence or lynching in the district and take steps to prohibit instances of dissemination of offensive material through different social media platforms or any other means for inciting such tendencies. The Nodal Officer shall also make efforts to eradicate hostile environment against any community or caste which is targeted in such incidents.”

Read the Judgment Here