This article was written by Sanyam Khatri, a GGSIPU student
Fake news is one of the biggest issues in India. The use of new social media platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp to disseminate fake or false information is very common in today’s world. Real facts and information is getting buried in an avalanche of fake information, which is spreading like wildfire all over the world and creating rifts between people from various religions, castes, races, and beliefs. Nowadays, there have been a huge number of instances of fake news misleading people, spreading propaganda, or maligning people and communities which results in hatred among them. This danger appears to be intensifying as millions of Indians increasingly receive information and facts through social media. Just a few months back a rumor about a gang of men supposedly abducting children in Jharkhand spread out like wildfire via WhatsApp. It soon mobilized a mob of hundreds of rural people who ended up killing seven men just because of suspicion and later it proved to be false and the men turned out to be innocent. A few months back, the government favoring websites and mainstream TV channels like Republic TV circulated a story claiming that Arundhati Roy had criticized the Indian Army and CRPF’s heavy-handed presence in the Kashmir valley. This story prompted the nationalist sections of society to lash out at her but she clarified that she did not make such comments regarding India controlling Kashmir and killing innocents.
Similarly, a photograph of an Indian soldier went viral with a message that the body was of BSF constable Tej Bahadur Yadav, who was in the headlines for his viral video complaining about the bad quality of food served to the soldiers of BSF however after research, it was found that the photograph was from a Maoist attack in the state of Chhattisgarh. This issue is doubly aggravated by the massive proliferation of internet connectivity in India in the last few years. Various researches show that there are now 355 million active internet users in India, roughly 27% of the total population, thus India has the second-highest number of internet users in the world after China. Research by the Internet and Mobile Association of India and IMRB International, a market research firm, stated that 77% of urban Internet users and 92% of rural users consider mobile phones as the primary device for accessing the Internet, moreover, after 2016, almost every telephone company provide free data to users with a data limit of 4GB per day and a result of it can be easily seen that there is an increasing trend of circulation of fake information news, videos, and photographs. India is one of the biggest markets for social media and communication companies. Various studies show that there are more than 390 million Whatsapp users 148 million Facebook users and over 22 million Twitter accounts in India. It can be said that two major reasons behind this fake news surge are-
- Declination in smartphone and internet data pack prices over the past couple of years
- And most of the rural users believe in almost anything
ELECTION COMMISSION & VARIOUS POLITICAL PARTIES:
A lot of fake news, doctored videos, and malicious content are already doing the rounds on social media platforms. Given the high stakes within the volatile election season – a time that has in the past degenerated into social unrest and outbreaks of violence ¬– the potential malignant influence of social media is disturbing. Late last year, rumors on social media of strangers abducting children from villages were enough to trigger mob attacks where 20 innocent people were killed. Yet despite efforts by respective authorities to deal with social media giants, urging them to tackle the spread of misinformation and evolve a code of ethics so as not to allow their platforms to be misused, false information continues to be disseminated. In the run-up to the electoral exercise, candidates were required to provide the details of their social media accounts at the time of filing nominations. The idea was their activities on Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, and Google would be under the Election Commission’s scrutiny but that seems to have been an academic exercise. Given there’s virtually zero transparency when it involves political contributions or party expenditure in Indian politics, keeping a tab on social media and removing offensive material is a long shot. And with the spread and power of social media within the country, many feel it could find itself being the deciding thing about some constituencies with extremely tight races and wafer-thin margins. Given there’s virtually zero transparency when it involves political contributions or party expenditure in Indian politics, keeping a tab on social media and removing offensive material is a long shot.
Under the agreement with EC, social media companies are sure to potentially take down offending content much faster than usual, bypassing the quality procedure. But herein lies the catch. The rules regarding “offensive content” are vague, and there are many thousands of accounts that aren’t “officially” connected with these political parties, mainly operating through proxies. What’s more, even when a post, tweet, picture, or video is pulled down due to its offensive nature, the damage is typically already done after it’s been shared many times over. Various reports suggest that India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party & Indian National Congress have mounted spirited campaigns on WhatsApp and Facebook to rally support and spread political messages among followers. The BJP is assumed to possess around 200,000¬–300,000 WhatsApp groups, and INC has somewhere between 80,000 to 100,000 groups. Recent research by Alt News, a fact-checking website, found that the Bhartiya Janta Party was investing the most among the political parties on Facebook, amounting to around 70% of the total ad revenue made public by social media companies & this is the official version and does not include personal advt.
Whether the internet is a boon or bane, the massive proliferation of internet connectivity and the rapid increase in the number of smartphone users has only led social media companies to hone in on the boom. India is a huge and rapidly growing market. It is predicted that by 2022, there will be 829 million smartphone users in India which is 60% of the total population. In terms of the number of active users, India is the top market for WhatsApp. So with the vast popularity of social media platforms especially in rural areas, it is fertile ground to fan “misinformation”. A survey in February showcases that real news continues to be buried in an avalanche of false information. WhatsApp announced that it was going to crack down on these political parties misusing the app warning of a ban of its service. This comes on the back of rising concern that certain groups may attempt to send messages at scale and to spread fake news during the elections. WhatsApp has restricted the number of forwards to five for each user and has tested two new features that could help stop the spread of false information. In its attempts to clear its public image after a privacy scandal involving British data consultancy Cambridge Analytica, FB has assured users in India will see political advertisements with disclaimers i.e “published by” and “paid by” and claimed that the company would partner with fact-checkers during the election time. These kinds of measures are most welcome but the true test will be witnessed at the time of election. There are no easy solutions to tackle fake news whether in India or any other developing and complex country.
HOW TO COUNTER FAKE NEWS:
There is a need for greater vigilance and monitoring, political parties and corporate bodies have specialized teams of anonymous purveyors of the internet. They spread fake information related to targets that are real, Observers also state that news consumers tend to not read or watch anything that they do not agree with and accept everything blindly that goes with their beliefs at the face value of a particular individual or an organization. Fact-checking websites that have emerged using Google search and reverse image search to check if images have been manipulated. Some people also use Tineye, a dedicated reverse image search engine, which is another preferred tool to do the same job. There are several alternatives to tackle false information that can be undertaken by various organizations and many of these innovative ideas represent solutions that combat false information without endangering one’s freedom of expression and investigating the nature of journalism.
1) One of the foremost important things governments can do is to encourage independent, professional journalism. The general public needs reporters who help them add up complicated developments and affect the ever-changing nature of social, economic, and political events. Many fields are browsing changes that are called “mega changes,” and these shifts have created enormous anger, anxiety, and confusion. During a time of considerable turmoil, it is vital to possess a healthy Fourth Estate that’s independent of public authorities.
2) Authorities should try to avoid crackdowns on the media’s ability to hide the news, such activities bar the freedom of expression and hamper the power of journalists to hide political developments.
3) Authorities should also avoid censoring the content and making online platforms liable for misinformation. This could curb free expression, making people hesitant to share their politics for fear it might be censored as fake news. Such overly restrictive regulation could set a dangerous precedent and can infringe one’s freedom of expression.
NEWS INDUSTRY ACTIONS:
1) The news industry should still specialize in high-quality journalism that builds trust and attracts greater audiences. An encouraging development is that a lot of news organizations have experienced major gains in readership and viewership over the last few years, and this helps to place major news outlets on a better financial footing but there are precipitous drops in public confidence within the journalism in recent years, and this has damaged the power of journalists to report the news and hold leaders accountable. During a time of considerable chaos and disorder, the planet needs robust and viable journalism that informs citizens about current events and long-term trends.
2) it’s important for news agencies to call out false information and fake news without legitimizing them. They can do that by relying upon their in-house professionals and well-respected fact-checkers. To teach users about news sites that are created to mislead, non-profit organizations like Politifact, Factcheck.org, and Snopes judge the accuracy of leader claims and write stories explaining the truth or lack thereof of particular developments. Moreover, French news outlet Le Monde has a “database of more than 600 news sites that have been identified and tagged as ‘satire,’ ‘real,’ or ‘fake.
Crowdsourcing draws on the expertise of large numbers of readers or viewers to discern possible problems in news coverage, and it can be an effective way to deal with fake news. One example is that the Guardian’s effort to draw on the wisdom of the gang to assess 450,000 documents about Parliament member expenses within the UK. It received the documents but lacked the personnel quickly to research their newsworthiness. To affect this example, the newspaper created a public website that allowed ordinary people to read each document and designate it into one among four news categories: 1) “not interesting,” 2) “interesting but known,” 3) “interesting,” or 4) “investigate this.” Digital platforms allow news organizations to engage large numbers of readers this way. The Guardian was able to attract 20,000 readers to review 170,000 documents within the first 80 hours. These individuals helped the newspaper to assess which documents were most problematic and thus deserve further investigation and ultimately news coverage.
TECHNOLOGY COMPANY RESPONSIBILITY:
1) Technology companies should invest and focus on technology to identify false information and find it for users through algorithms and crowdsourcing. Algorithms are a strong weapon in today’s digital world & can help establish automatic hoax detection systems.
2) These companies shouldn’t make money from fake news manufacturers and will make it hard to monetize hoaxes. It is important to weaken financial incentives for bad content, especially false news and disinformation because the manufacturing of faux news is usually financially motivated. Like all clickbait, fake news and propaganda can be profitable due to ad revenues or general brand-building.
3) Technology companies should try to strengthen online accountability through stronger real-name policies and enforcement against fake accounts. These modern-day technology tycoons can do this through real-name registration, which is the requirement that internet users have to provide the hosting platform with their true identity. This procedure makes it easier to recognize one’s credibility.
1) Funding efforts to reinforce news literacy should be a high priority for governments. This is especially the case with people who are logging on for the primary time. For those individuals, it’s hard to differentiate false from real news, and they have to find out how to gauge news sources, not accept at face value everything they see on E- platforms, helping people become better consumers of online information is crucial because the world moves towards digital immersion. There should be financial support regarding partnerships between journalists, businesses, educational institutions, and nonprofit organizations to encourage news literacy.
2) Education is especially important for young people. A study done by Joseph Kahne and Benjamin Bowyer found that third-party assessments interest young readers. However, their effects are limited. Those statements judged to be inaccurate decrease a person’s coercion, although to a lower extent than alignment with the individual’s prior policy beliefs. If the person already agreed with the statement, it would have been harder for fact-checking to sway them against the knowledge.
ROLE OF THE PUBLIC:
1) One can protect oneself from false information and fake news by following a diversity of people with different approaches & perspectives. Depending on a small number of like-minded or same-ideology information sources limits the range of material available to people and increases the chances that they may fall victim to fake news.
2) In today’s modern world, viewers should be dubious about news sources. For the sake of views many online outlets resort to misleading headlines to seek the reader’s attention, the reader has to keep their guard up and understand that not everything they read is correct and many digital sites specialize in false information. Understanding & learning how to judge information sources and sites and guarding against false information is a high priority in today’s modern and digital world.
There are various means to promote timely, accurate, and civil discourse in the face of fake news and false information. In today’s modern world, there are considerable experiments taking place with online news platforms. News agencies are testing services and products that assist them in identifying fake information, hate speeches, and language that can lead to violence. There is a major unfolding of new innovative approaches that portend well for the future of online journalism. At the same time, everyone has a responsibility to tackle the avalanche of fake information and news. It varies from promoting strong norms on professional journalism, promoting the investigative nature of journalism, reducing financial incentives for false information, and enhancing the knowledge regarding it among the general public if these initiatives are taken together then it would further quality discourse and weaken the ecosystem that has propelled false information around the world.
NOTE: This Article is purely for informational and awarness purpose based on personal research of the Author. We do not take responsibility of the authentication or any reliance upon this information