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Rumor Mongering And Laws Related To It

Rumor, hearsay, or gossip is an uncorroborated statement in transmission that emerges in obscurity and can create panic among individuals. Rumors many a time creates distrust and aggravates conflicts between people by exasperating them[1].

As per the report of American national advisory commission, 65% of the cases related to racial riots in USA happen due to the hearsay conversations, and it has now become a common apparatus of the miscreants to indulge in ethnic religious fights with one another after spreading negative rumors. In a classic book psychology of rumor the authors have studied rumors distortion in what is commonly said as a telephone game, hearsay gossips generally distort the society even more than we can even think of.

Take an example of current Delhi Riots, the National capital is going through worst ever period of violent protests, be it Shaheenbagh, Jamia Milia or JNU, what's adding fuel to the already burning Delhi is rumors spreading by way of social media and mouth publicity, recently a number of shopkeepers shuttered their shops after they heard news/rumors about the protests in the nearby region, taxi and three wheeler driver rejected going those places, not only this, even metro stations of as many as 7 regions were closed for a while and all this panic was generated due to the rumors that were unfurled by the miscreants.

This small example clears us the impact rumors makes on our lives, it not only exasperates us but also impacts our life psychologically as well as financially. Ergo, all of us are potential victims of rumors, including false or vicious ones[2].

Dangers associated with rumor mongering:

Although it is true that rumors aren't necessarily false, but it can be easily assumed that rumors evidently leads to error. For e.g. a person saw a photograph and he gave its description to the second person, second to the third and the chain continues till tenth person, if you will go and ask the tenth person about the description of the photograph, he will apprise an altogether different description than what the first person would have elucidated, this is the real danger of rumors, situation unfurling in a totally different way than the reality, and it is even more dangerous when it is an Urban legend spread by a miscreant.

Rumors not affect a single person; it affects a society at large and sometimes a whole country, if people spread false rumors—most obviously about public institutions, democracy itself will suffer at large and for no good reason people might lose faith in some leaders and policies and eventually losing faith in their government. Not only this, false rumors have hindered our capability to think well regarding what to do about crisis as a citizen[3] as can be seen in a recent Delhi violence.

Laws in India to control it:

Section 505 of IPC explicitly provides with the laws regarding rumor mongering, sub section 1 of this section clearly states that rumors circulated with an intent to give rise to mutiny or offence against public peace or create ill will, hatred or enmity between different classes will be punished with a term of up to 3 years or fine or both, and sub section 2 provides if the same would be done at a place of worship then the term might increase to 5 years, rest all being the same.

Other than this a person can also file a complaint against a rumor monger under section 499-502 if his reputation has been defamed, and to curb the rumors spread by social media platforms, section 69-A of IT act is in prevalence, which authorizes the govt. to issue directions to block any false information. These are the laws prevalent in India at present to curb the ill effects of rumor mongering.

Conviction rate under such laws:

Since the rumor mongering laws are filed under so many aspects so it is not possible to find a proper statistical data of what is the conviction rate of people under these laws. But still it is evident that a very few number of people are convicted when they are charged under these laws, reason being that Indian government till now do not consider rumor mongering as a very menacing activity, this is why it is not as strict as it should be to curb people spreading rumors and a low conviction rate is its consequence.

Scope of improvement:

Deaths due to rumor mongering has been a new normal in India set aside the mental and financial trouble people face due to it, the present laws are ineffective to curb rumor mongers, rather the frequency of rumors spreading is increasing day by day, so it is has become imperative for the government to curb the situation.

For this, the first and the foremost step government could and should take is to impose restrictions on the social media companies on the type of content that should circulate on it, other than this more strict IT acts should be formed because the biggest rumor circulator is internet and more effective tracking system should be used by the government so that rumor mongers don't escape easily and laws regarding rumor mongering should get strict even further to severely punish those who spread rumors enraging people against other communities or led any public servant to mutiny.

Measures that individuals can take to avoid spread of false information:

An old adage, don't dignify a rumor with a response is a faulty advice given by our ancestor, since rumors, especially in a country like India where people are gossip freak, spread like wildfire and affects either an individual on a personal level or the whole community on a higher extent, so if in case we hear or see any rumor regarding anything or anybody, it becomes our duty to check its veracity and in case it is wrong then we must urgently take an action against it and tell people the truth either by social media or any other means, since our indolence might even cause a communal riot.

Rumor mongering is as old as human civilization; it was the rumor only that killed Julius Caesar many times before he actually died (in 44 BC). In the modern age and era when internet is available in every household, any incident anywhere in the world shoots up to your screen in the form of news or rumor and add to that the deliberate roll out of misinformation by some agencies can surge the tensions and escalate doubts, even giving birth to an additional rumor.

This is the extent to which rumor affects our lives. In spite of the omnipresent nature of rumors, it has been given very little attention than it should have attained, not only do the government needs to take action against the rumor mongers but it is our responsibility as an individual to not believe on the rumors without checking its authenticity so that people like Julius Caesar don't die many times before they actually do.   

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