The Supreme Court on Monday declined to entertain a plea for mandatory linking of social media accounts with Aadhaar.
Noting that the Madras High Court is already seized of this matter, the bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra granted liberty to petitioner-advocate, BJP Leader Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay, to approach the High Court with his prayers.
"Why must everything come to this court?", asked the bench.
The plea also sought in the alternative directions to the Central Government to take apposite steps to deactivate fake and ghost social media accounts in order to control fake and paid news.
Upadhyay sought the above relief so as to weed out all fake accounts, frequently used by political parties and contesting candidates for self-promotion and other "electioneering activities", even during the 48 hours prior to conclusion of polling.
Considerably, Section 126 of the Representation of People Act, 1951 prohibits electioneering activities by way of public meetings, public performances, processions advertisements through television, cinematograph, radio or similar apparatus for a period of 48 hours up to the time fixed for conclusion of poll.
The Petitioner thus sought that the words "similar apparatus" in Section 126 must include Web Portals and Social Media so as to curtail political parties from manipulating public at the last minute. He also sought that political advertisements during last 48 hours before the poll be declared corrupt practice under Section 123(4) of Representation of People Act, 1951.
Proliferation of fake news spread through these bogus accounts is also an issue raised by the plea. The Petitioner submitted in this regard that there were approximately 3.5 million fake Twitter handles and 35 million fake Facebook accounts, used for circulating fake, made-up news. These handles, created in the name of eminent political figures, are used to mislead public and influence the outcome of elections by spreading fake news.
"According to a study conducted by the Election Commission of India, during the State Assembly elections held between 2011-2013, there were 1987 cases wherein notices for Fake and Paid News were issued to contesting candidates and 1727 cases wherein the practice of Fake and Paid News being prevalent was confirmed by the District Level Committees appointed by the ECI to control Fake and Paid news," it was submitted.
The Petitioner claimed that circulation of fake news not only violated his fundamental right to know under Article 19 of the Constitution but also affected an elector's right to make an informed choice during elections and hindered free and fair elections. It was further contended that publication of fake news involves use of black money, under-reporting of election expenses of political parties and candidates.
The petitions in High Courts essentially seek a declaration that Aadhaar or any other government authorized identity proof should be made mandatory to authenticate social media accounts. This will curb the menace created by fake and anonymous profiles, according to the petitioners.
While hearing two such petitions, the Madras HC had expanded the scope of the case to consider the issue of online abuse and fake news being circulated through social media. The Court also sought to define the liabilities of intermediaries in cases of fake news and cyber abuse. Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp and Google have submitted before the Court that it is not possible for them to monitor each and every personal content.