What better way to start an article about the dangers of fake news than to use a fake title? The title is similar to other popular fake news forwards starting with “UNESCO declares…”
UNESCO may not have declared India as the best country to spread fake news. But in reality, this is what India seems to be becoming recently. We can clearly see the swift rise of fake news in social and mainstream media. It has become a political tool to mislead people. It’s being used to elevate one political side and to degrade the other, causing animosity between different groups and even resulting in people getting killed.
The most recent of such news happens to be about Narendra Modi being the “world’s second-most corrupt PM“. This is clearly being peddled by a group opposing the BJP. There is also the peddling of pro-BJP fake news, a recent one being about a “Jain sage being attacked by Muslim youth in Karnataka“. This kind of political vendetta is resulting in a slugfest online, leading all the way to the destruction of our democracy.
A report published in January this year estimates that approximately 1 in 4 Americans visited a pro-Trump fake news website from October 7 – November 14, 2016. This definitely had a profound impact on the decision making process of the voters. With the recent findings of the Facebook user data scandal, the full extent of this scam is emerging, leading to a staggering loss of $50 billion market cap for Facebook. From user behavior analytics to targeted fake news based on psychological profiling, fake news entities clearly polarised US politics during the 2016 election and helped Trump to become the President.
One might think that Indian democracy is immune to such large-scale political meddling using fake news. But the recent speculations linking ‘Cambridge Analytica’, the company behind this scandal to major parties like the BJP and the Congress is a cause for concern. The merit of these claims is yet to be proven, but the trend of fake news prevailing over real news on social media hints that something is really wrong in Indian politics. In a diverse and polarised country like ours, this trend of online ideological segregation is very dangerous.
Every Indian must understand the gravity of this crisis before the 2019 national elections. We cannot let this cancer spread and undermine the very fabric of free elections. We have to identify and join forces with people trying to fight this problem. Pratik Sinha is one of the few crusaders against fake news in India. He’s a former software engineer who started the independent media house Alt News in 2017 to combat the rise of fake news.
In this video, he explains his motive and ambition behind starting his company.
People like him should be encouraged, supported and collaborated with to make sure that elections in India are held fair and square without any deceit or fraud.
Internet giants like Google are also focused on improving this situation. Recently, the company announced the ‘Google News Initiative‘ to improve access to reliable quality news online. Indian media houses should take part in such initiatives, and take responsibility in being sensible and transparent in providing news online.
But the most important role in this battle is that of the citizen.
Yes, we, the common people on the internet, should be cognizant of fake news. Whatever our political orientation and belief may be, we have to take a profound consequential leap of thought about fake news and see the bigger picture.
Before sharing anything online please ask yourself – is it worth it? A potential fake news from an unknown source either simply adds meaningless value to the discussion, or in the worst-case-scenario, could inject a destructive tone into the mix. So, if you are ever in doubt, do not share such news. This may be a simple practice in being a responsible citizen, but it will definitely add a lot of value in preserving our democracy.