Social Media and Cyber Laws

Forwarding fake news on WhatsApp can land you in jail. How to stay safe?


Section 54 Disaster Management Act, 2005

This section punishes an offender for making or circulating a false alarm or warning as to a disaster, or its severity or magnitude, leading to panic. Upon conviction, the offender can be imprisoned for a maximum period of one year or can be fined.

Section 182 IPC

There have been a few cases where people have falsely posted about foreign travel history of other persons and have created an apprehension that such persons may be a carrier of coronavirus. If as a consequence of such posts, a public servant uses his lawful power to the injury or annoyance of any person, the offender can be prosecuted under Section 182 IPC. Such an offender can be punished with imprisonment up to six months, or with fine which may extend to one thousand rupees, or with both.

Section 500

The law of defamation can also be invoked against an offender who publishes false information regarding any persons, under Section 500 IPC, attracting imprisonment up to two years, or fine, or both. Further, in cases of defamation, Section 469 of the IPC can be invoked, making the offence cognizable, and the punishment stringent. An offender can be given imprisonment up to three years and also fine, for an offence under Section 469 IPC.

Section 505 IPC

Section 505 can be used in two categories with respect to the sharing of information. Firstly, making, publishing, or circulating a statement or rumour which creates or is likely to create fear or alarm to the public. Secondly, making, publishing, or circulating a statement or rumour or alarming news with an intent to create or promote enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes on grounds of religion, race, language, caste, etc. In both the cases, an offender may be punished with imprisonment of up to three years, or with fine, or with both.

Other relevant provisions

The above-mentioned sections can operate in isolation or can operate with any particular combination of sections, depending upon the circumstances of the case. In case a cognizable offence is clubbed with a non-cognizable offence, the entire offence would be a cognizable one and the police would be capable of arresting without a warrant. Further, there are some other relevant sections such as Section 465 and 471 IPC. These sections can also be invoked in case of false information, especially when fake documents are shared around. While Section 465 talks about a forged electronic record, 471 talks about using a forged electronic record as genuine, inviting imprisonment up to two years, or fine, or both.

The internet is a safe house to users who do not wish to reveal their true identity, and sometimes use false/ fake identity too. In case such users are found spreading any kind of fake news, Section 66C of the Information Technology Act, 2000, can also be imposed against them. The offender, under this section, can be imprisoned for up to three years with fine which may extend up to rupees one lakh.


  1. Fake news is no different than a contagious disease. In the times of social distancing, the motto is ‘protect yourself, protect others’. A very similar corollary is applicable to our social media presence. Each one of us needs to ignore the call to ‘share with at least 7 people’ and break the chain of spread.
  2. There is an utmost need to presume any news received through WhatsApp or other platforms, to be false. Be suspicious about its truthfulness. Perhaps news houses practice more care regarding the truth of the matter, but those also turn out to be fake sometimes. Nevertheless, if a piece of news comes from a reliable source, it is more likely to be true and hence web link of such news shall be cautiously verified before further sharing the news.
  3. There are multiple fact checking agencies which can help in verifying the authenticity of the news. The government of India has partnered with the Press Information Bureau to check fake news regarding any government agency, department, or even the military. You may post any suspicious news and tag @PIBFactCheck.
  4. Regarding coronavirus, the Government has set up ‘Coronavirus News Desk’ on Telegram, WhatsApp, Facebook, and Messenger, to help spread the true and correct information. There is no need to entertain any news or any information that is not coming from any of these sources. You may also ask these desks to verify any specific piece of information.
  5. If you come across any suspicious news or information, report the local police immediately. Police will help curb the spread of fake information and will share the true information through its own social media channels, which have a wide reach among the locals.

This article was originally published on and can be accessed here.

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