Tackling fake on the internet

Mar 28 2014, 16:26 IST
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SummaryVirtual life is free, fun and, should we say for a few, ‘fake’. People love to create identities on websites.

Virtual life is free, fun and, should we say for a few, ‘fake’. People love to create identities on websites. Though it has never been researched but, if evaluated, fake profiles would consume substantial space on social networking sites’ server space. A fake profile, per se, is not illegal, if it is not used to commit an offence. However, if the offence is committed, fake profiles do have evidentiary value. For the purpose of this article, let us assume that the profiles have been created for fun and no offence is involved.

Social networking sites have been categorised as intermediaries under Indian law. Intermediaries by definition mean that they do not provide their own content. Rather the owners provide the content and the social networking sites merely facilitate posting of such content. The relevant guidelines applicable to intermediaries are also silent on the issue of fake profiles. Notable exceptions being (a) impersonation; and (b) information belonging to any other person, which the intermediary is required to remove.

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The only connect netizens have with a social networking site is the sites’ terms of use. Terms of use generally stipulate that the user will not post false information on social networking sites. The author is yet to meet a user who reads the terms of use of a social networking site, and he presumes that the users generally (if not all the users) do not read the same. Though the users do not read the terms of use, once they click the ‘I agree’ button (or a checkbox), they agree to the terms. As per the provisions of the Information technology Act, 2000, checking a checkbox or the ‘I agree’ button amounts to a valid contract. Therefore, once a contract is concluded, the user is bound by its terms, and he is restricted from posting a fake profile. In the event the social networking site becomes aware of a fake profile, then the site may remove such user.

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Practically, the site cannot do much when it comes to sanitising itself with respect to fake profiles. There are certain sites that allow for screening of posts. However, such screening relates only to texts which are offensive. Even the law does not require the sites to undertake due diligence in such

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