Social Media, Artificial Intelligence and Role of Tech Firms in the Age of Disinformation: Impact on Democracy and Regulatory Challenges in India

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Ravi Shankar, Prof Tabrez Ahmad


Online digital media has become a lifeline for humankind. But it has also become a major source of disruptions just like climate change. During the global pandemic, COVID-19, while the whole world is trying their best to blunt the spread of coronavirus, there is a vile trend of circulation of disinformation, fake news and sharing false data related to the virus on social media platforms creating panic among people. The review paper found that the present online information ecosystem matrix is driven by exploiters with the objective to demean democratic bodies, inflame societal divides, manipulate public opinion and influence citizens’ voting choice to distort the democracy. Examination of the current trend led to disturbing reality as the content, discourse, tone and intent of social media interactions have undergone an evolution that threatens not only free speech, privacy, data protection, national security but democracy as a whole. The study also highlighted about the rise of new-age technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Algorithm, Robotics, and Machine Learning (ML) have exacerbated the problem to new heights as these technologies play a disproportionately impactful role in disseminating disinformation by amplifying it to distort democracy and free speech. The research work resonated with the growing clamour for greater legal regulation to control the menace of social media misuse among democracies around the globe. It addressed the concerns of internet companies and rights activists who fear tight measures would imperil free speech. The paper tried to examine the challenge how to regulate that doesn’t stifle the freedom of expression and speech vis-à-vis keeping online content safe and protected. The fact-finding review paper is based on existing laws, regulations, policies, research papers, media reports, articles on instances of disinformation and fake news to find solutions and future developments keeping India in focus. The subject of study assumes significance in a democracy like India which has recently notified a new regulatory regime - ‘The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021,’ to strengthen the regulatory architecture to tackle misuse of social media to deal with the fast-growing new communication challenges. The study critically examines these new guidelines and also highlights the patchy policy syndrome of internet content governance in India.

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