The Fake news, Lügenpresse (the lying press), Donald Trump, impregnation of the female peacock (peahen) is another classic set of syllogism. The ‘Holy Cow’ and the right wing sentiments went far with a recent judgement passed by Justice Sharma of the Rajasthan High Court. In a bizarre judgement, the judge not only decided that the time was apt for the cow being declared as a national animal but his rationale made several doubt the biology lessons they learnt in high school. He invoked the rationale behind the national bird status of the peacock—its abstinence from the ‘worldly pleasures’ (read sex). Claiming the patriarchal piosity that is followed by ‘tears’ of sacrifice which is allegedly the means of insemination and fertilisation of a peahen. The tweeple were kept guessing if all peacocks were divine or if sexual pleasure was a sin. Indeed we are a country that runs high on sentiments rather than facts and merits. But wait, why only India? Isn’t the world going through a similar crisis? The stories may differ in taste, i.e. political, religious, mythological; but the sentiments run high and are blinding.
There are very specific political and sociological reasons one can draw from the post-truth world we live in. A personality cult, when the majoritarian view, regardless of its social correctness, empowers a leader to steer the politics with an iron fist without caring much about the actual numbers and statistics. People start worshiping and cannot withstand any constructive criticism. A mechanism of counter-narrative against already not so heard voices is developed with closely knitted fudged numbers and stats through a canvas that proactively projects the ‘true’ statesmanship of the leader by deliberate intermixing of racial, religious and ideological supremacy appealing to the masses.
The physiological instinct of survival allows the flow of a malicious news and it goes through without a need for fact check amongst the masses. There is an involuntary knee jerk reaction to something foreign, like a prick, helps the unchecked flow of fake news. The political and ideological beliefs act as the nervous reflex for a story to be accepted.
Another aspect of fake news is to discredit the actual news. When the actual news does not confer to the vox populi or the majoritarian view and goes against the leadership that enjoys the confidence of the masses, even an actual news is discredited as fake news. With the social media buzz, our social lives are politically charged and thus the political correctness manages to sway merit over facts. Thus fake news has certain merits over the correct story. Not only does it restrict the factual reporting but also helps in egging the echo chambers to the extent that everything else seems like a conspiracy and an ‘agenda’ against the ‘Leader of the Masses’. Masses find it compelling to engage in counter-narratives through instant messengers like WhatsApp as forwards which makes it conducive for the masses to be bombarded with the same fake news through widely accepted formal mediums such as newsrooms once it goes viral informally, leaving less room for critical evaluation on at individual level. In short, the masses become mules that unknowingly help widespread malicious stories.
With the convergence of print and broadcast on the internet, there is immense pressure on the media houses. Where Print, which is becoming redundant, is faced with the crunch of funds which it generated through advertisements, has now shifted to online news feeds. The ‘Trend Desks’ that are supposedly being set up to increase the viewership substantially can be found running stories without much verification as these are sourced from unverified video libraries such as YouTube. The clickbait strategy drives these online portals which are now the cheapest and fastest grapevine networks.
Popular social networking websites and Apps such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and even the search engines such as Google have algorithms in place that curate the feeds based on the user’s history and preferences to keep them engaged and build up a user-friendly interface. But then it also makes an echo chamber or a bubble in which the user is trapped without even being aware. Many e-commerce websites such as Amazon also use the similar strategy where the customer ends up buying an unnecessary product just because he planned to buy it in the past or even did a search on its platform. So there is a need to recognise these algorithmic patterns and do a robust search before consuming anything from anywhere, be it a product or a news story.
It must be argued that the nationalistic and xenophobic sentiments are also to be blamed for the spreading of fake news. The election of Donald Trump and Brexit are testimonies that stand tall in favour of the argument. The newsrooms are engaged in deplorable name-calling exercises that appeal to the masses and discredit the other versions. Recently Delhi High Court told a newly started news channel to bring down the rhetoric for engaging in name callings without relying much on evidential merit.
The propagation of fake news is similar to a majoritarian democracy. Their nature is such that they both are appealing and closely aided by rhetorics. Fake news as a tool is increasingly being employed and has become more organised from a pack of mischiefs to dedicated PR cells under political patronage. Though, it is not a new phenomenon as its traces are well mapped in the world history. The most classic example is Hitler’s Germany. The Nazi minister for propaganda, Joseph Goebbles with impeccable oratory skills and a doctorate in philosophy once said ‘’ A lie once told remains a lie but a lie told a thousand times becomes the truth.’’ He used radio and films for his propaganda against the Jewish minority and somehow blamed the minorities for all of Germany’s (read Majority’s) problems.
One need to understand that ultra-nationalism, racism, xenophobia, and majoritarianism are all aided by the fake news. The best way to counter the menace of fake news is to strive for liberal values and critical thinking.