MUMBAI: Between March 2020 and March 2021, Maharashtra Cyber cell classified over 7,300 online posts as fake news, hate speech, malicious, or defamatory rumours. However, only about 31% of these posts were deleted by social media platforms and video sharing apps.
According to Maharashtra Cyber officials, rumour mongering online peaked after the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput. In the case of the Covid-19 pandemic, 808 counts of spreading false information were filed in different parts of the state, with 339 people arrested.
Maharashtra Cyber is a state-run nodal office tasked with investigating cybercrime and ensuring cyber security. “When a post is flagged as offensive or false, a notification is sent to the social networking website or app, requesting that it be removed. However, before making a decision, the websites consult their own legal team,” an official said.
Malicious or defamatory posts often attack key political figures. Maharashtra Cyber has a cell that tracks online content with six people working in shifts.
“Either on its own or in response to a particular complaint, our cell tracks online activity. The official said, “We have resources to track down the origins of the message.”
Fake news concerning Covid-19 infections and deaths began to circulate on messaging apps only days after the lockout was implemented. Audio messages were also being transmitted about how the number of deaths in a certain region had risen significantly.
The first such incident happened in Nagpur, where an audio clip went viral on WhatsApp, triggering public fear and anxiety. On March 27, 2020, Nagpur police filed a complaint and arrested three people.
Another fake message that went viral was about the collector issuing orders banning public meetings. At Akola, a case was filed. Nearly 140 fake Covid-19 online posts were taken down.
“After actor Sushant Singh Rajput died last year, there was a significant increase in defamatory and malicious rumours. Theories about what caused the actor’s death, who may have been involved, if there was a connection between his death and that of his former manager Disha Salian, what circumstances Salian died in, and so on were circulated on social media, according to an official. A lawyer from Delhi was arrested for spreading false information about Rajput’s death.