DELHI: Circulation of fake news and disinformation has the power to “impair democratic discourse”, Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud said on Friday, while criticising the role played by troll armies and targeted mass disinformation campaigns. He made the remark while discussing the “traditional definition” of free speech and the challenges of the digital world.
“With the advent of troll armies and organised disinformation campaigns across different social media platforms, the fear is that there is an overwhelming barrage of speech that distorts the truth,” CJI Chandrachud said, while speaking at the 14th Justice VM Tarkunde Memorial Lecture in Delhi.
He further said that disinformation pushes a “marketplace of free ideas to the point of collapse” under the weight of “fake stories”.
“A cursory glance at the newspaper every day will bring to the fore instances of communal and vigilante violence fuelled by fake rumours and targeted disinformation campaigns,” the CJI noted.
He referred to the Civil Liberties principle of the ‘marketplace of ideas’ where all individuals have the right to put forth their views. However, he added, with fake news and disinformation, the marketplace is being eroded.
“The marketplace can only exist when there is agreement on the veracity of basic facts. There is no marketplace of facts. In fact, the goal of fake news is to create one, to erode the stability of foundational elements of society—namely, truth. In this way, tolerating the proliferation of fake news erodes the free and open debate that democracy intends to protect. If we cannot agree on the veracity of basic facts, debate stops, partisanship hardens, and social solidarity breaks down,” CJI Chandrachud said.
He also pointed out the current global debate regarding state surveillance versus privacy concerns, calling for robust oversight and stringent protocols for such systems. The CJI said that courts everywhere are considering the “delicate balance” between legitimate needs of the state for protection and the fundamental right to privacy. For this, CJI Chandrachud cited examples from the UK, the European Union, Estonia, and India’s Aadhaar system.
“Examining the constitutionality of global surveillance programmes reveals significant challenges due to limited information on their operational aspects. The lack of clarity hampers comprehensive evaluations of their adherence to constitutional standards. A collaborative effort between policymakers, technology companies, and informed citizens is imperative. Robust oversight mechanisms, stringent authorization protocols, and increased public awareness, without compromising ongoing investigations, constitute the way forward,” the CJI said.