Fake News is Damaging Our Social Fabric

“The Democrats don’t matter. The real opposition is media. And the way to deal with them is to flood the zone with shit”, infamously said Steve Bannon, the former right – hand man of Donald trump. And this defines the power of fake news. Exacerbated by the technology and social media, fake news has caused tremendous harm to the social fabric of not only India, but the world too. Only difference being, the types of fake news differ from one nation to another. As Pratik Sinha, the founder of fact – checking website Alt News, says in a panel at Newslaundry, “The people who are putting out misinformation very well understands the social dynamics of the country.” So one country may suffer from medical misinformation while other from political one. If we look into some of them in India, fake news has become more communal with the growth of polarized politics lately. Thus, it becomes the responsibility of the journalists and the tech companies to become responsive on this matter.

Yet, the journalists have gone the other way round, trying to put up false narratives every now and then. The recent one being the news of TIME magazine applauding UP’s CM Yogi Adityanath for handling the pandemic well. Actually it was an advertisement by the UP government in the magazine, but many media channels aired it as a report by the TIME and never corrected it since. Unlike a country like US where the source of revenue is people’s subscription, the news channels in India receives the bulk of their revenue by advertisement, especially the government ads, so they are incentivized to support the narrative of the present government. Hence, it is important to get information from transparent, crowd funded, and verified sources.

Coming to the tech companies, twitter did some good job during the US elections by flagging the unverified tweets of President Trump. But, according to Govind Ethiraj, founder of news and fact – checking website Boom, they busted more than thirty viral fake news just after the Pulwama air strike, when the Indian elections were around. So, why are policies of tech companies different for different nations? Will we always be dependent on international media like the Wall Street Journal to pressurize the politically biased policy heads of these companies like Ankhi Das? There are too many unanswered questions.

The reason why fake news has survived and is growing rapidly is because it becomes nice to consume. As Vivek Kaul, author and economic commentator, says that no one would want to pay for good news because they get simplified answers to complex questions on Whatsapp, that too for free. They would never try to look for the nuances behind any claim. It’s true that the messaging app has become one of the biggest sources of misinformation in today’s time. And it can have some serious implications. One might think that provocative messages will only be consumed by a small section of conservative groups, but look at how it led to US Capitol riots recently and Delhi riots last year. It will definitely grow with time if unchecked.

So, what can one do to fight fake news? To be honest, a simple google search will tell you enough, most of the times. Just type some part of the text that you find or get from someone on google and that’s it. But, it is also important to verify it with multiple sources. As for images, google reverse image search can be helpful. If you find an image on google just right click (if working on a PC, or press the image for a few seconds if using a smartphone) and select ‘Search google for image’. It will show the details and sources of that image. There are various sites too which provide you reverse image search feature for a photo on your gallery. Although the best way is to go through a 90 minute free fact – checking course created by Poynter’s News University and the American Press Institute, and funded by Google News Lab. It will tell you enough to fight fake news efficiently. Other than this one must recognize posts which may mislead us. For this we should check our emotions. As Tim Harford writes in his book How to Make the World Add Up, “When we encounter a … claim, and are thinking of posting it on social media or typing a furious rebuttal, we should instead ask ourselves: ‘How does this make me feel?’ We should do this not just for our own sake, but as a social duty.” This helps us to think more rationally. But, to start with, try not to judge an information as true only by looking at the number of retweets.

  राजा बोला रात है ,रानी बोली रात है,
  मंत्री बोला रात है , संत्री बोला रात है,
  ये सुबह सुबह की बात है ।  
 (The King said it was night, the Queen agreed it was night, 
 the Minister agreed it was night, the Soldier agreed it was night,
 on the day when the sun was shining bright.) 
- Gorakh Pandey

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s