By: Navashree Nandini
Recently, a morphed image of former President Pranab Mukherjee surfaced on twitter in which he is wearing trademark RSS cap and is doing traditional RSS salutation during the recent RSS event attended by him. Elsewhere in the nation, spate of mob lynchings are taking place over fake whatsapp messages warning against child abductors. With the threat of fake news becoming more and more perilous day by day and general election in less than a year away, we need to look and understand the intricacies of the problem exhaustively.
WHAT IS FAKE NEWS?
Fake news is a phenomenon under yellow journalism that spreads misinformation and hoaxes for deeper penetration of an idea. It’s a part of a larger propaganda. Currently it has become a tool for political parties all over the world. For example, soon after Donald Trump won in the US, fake news about the Pope telling the Catholics to vote for Trump was spread. In India, examples of fake news are in-numerous, some leading to dire consequences such as communal violence in Bashirhat, West Bengal in 2017.
HOW IS IT SPREAD AND DIFFICULTIES IN BUSTING FAKE NEWS?
A survey by Massachusetts Institute of Technology showed that fake news in retweeted 70 times more than true and genuine news. Thus, penetration of fake news in the society is much more than the true news leading to misconceptions and psychological transformations within people. In the era of JIO that has revolutionised the society with cheaper availability of internet, the transmission of fake news has eased because people with lower internet literacy have access to all forms of social network. The feature of end-to-end encryption complicates the matter because tracking of source has become a troublesome job. The IT cell of various political parties blatantly indulges in spreading fake news to modify voter behaviour in their favour. For example, Swati Chaturvedi in her book “I am a Troll” claims that the Bharatiya Janta Party(BJP) hires individuals to share fake information in chains so that by the time it is tracked, it already reaches to many. Christopher Wylie, the whistle blower of Cambridge Analytica scam informed the British parliament that Congress(INC) was a client of the firm. Thus it’s clear that the essence of free and fair elections is demeaned by the two main national political parties of India who keeps blaming each other against the spread of fake news.
WHAT IS TO BE DONE?
The April press release by The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting(MIB) announcing that Press Information Bureau accreditation of journalists spreading fake news will be cancelled, did little to assuage the disease of fake news. With a major backlash from the media fraternity, it was withdrawn after orders from the Prime Minister’s Office. While many incumbent ministers are accused of spreading misinformation, there are only a few portals that are actively spreading awareness as well as busting fake news. Alt News, Smhoaxslayer, Boom are at the helm of this process. Scroll, The Wire and The Logical Indian has joined the process. The mainstream media too is trying to join the row with ABP News’ Viral Sach but the paradox arises when Zee News’ most viewed DNA telecasts an entire show on hazards of fake news forgetting its own episode about the chip in 2000 rupee notes. Experts says that behavioural change and self-regulation are the major ways to stop the spread of fake news. A habit of basic fact checking must be inculcated into individuals and everything that appears on social media must not be trusted without re-checking. With motive of saving the democracy and preventing the polarisationof society and cessation of lynching and mob violence, every individual must pledge to acquire internet literacy and take social media with a pill of caution. Only then, the malicious practice of fake news can be countered.