Ever since ‘fake news’ was named the Collins Dictionary’s Official Word Of The Year for 2017, it has become a never-ending topic of debate. Although the advent of fake news is not new or recent, its potential to reach people has been amplified due to free and open online platforms and applications.
Today, we need to be more responsible about fact-checking before randomly sharing things with others. Every day, we wake up to many WhatsApp messages from familiar circles or on our family WhatsApp groups. There are a plethora of messages, which may be factually incorrect, bizarre, sometimes inflammatory, or simply designed to stir controversy. And what’s more worrying is that some of them are full of hatred (often along communal lines) and totally distort historical facts or the events on the ground.
Often, we feel disgusted after reading/hearing these messages, but we do nothing to correct the sender’s inaccuracies and/or misconceptions. WhatsApp has been grappling with a fake news and rumour-mongering problem in India, its largest base, where it has more than 200 million monthly active users.
There are millions of messages and other sorts of misinformation circulating on the internet today. Much of this is due to the fact that internet usage in the country has grown exponentially in the past decade. Cheap smartphones and affordable data plans have ensured that we are always connected. We now have over 460 million internet users in the country and the largest number of Facebook users in the world.
Today there are plenty of fake news portals/handles on social media and YouTube spreading blatant lies, fabricated and manipulated content without any hindrance. The continuous rise of digital and social media as powerful platforms has magnified the effect of fake news to an alarming extent.
After having realised this, Twitter has planned to partner with law enforcement agencies and regulators to curb fake news and prevent trolling on the social networking site ahead of the upcoming 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Taranjeet Singh, the country director of Twitter India, said that the microblogging site is taking several steps to ensure the authenticity of posts in the run-up to the general elections, according to a report in The Economic Times.
Earlier in April 2018, Facebook also tied up with BOOM to introduce a third-party fact-checking programme in India to combat the spread of false news on its platform, starting with a pilot programme in Karnataka, which recently had its state elections.
Unlike mainstream media that falls under comprehensive regulation like Press Council Of India and NBAC, online platforms have scope for doing heinous activities due to the lack of binding rules, regulations and the ability to keep their owners and editors anonymous – which is the case in many fake news websites. In the absence of such crucial information, it becomes very difficult to trace down these perpetrators of hate and fake news. This is the main strength of the manufacturers of the fake news factory – their ability to remain unknown in large numbers, wearing the mask of a ‘media outlet’.
The amount of ‘fake news’ being produced on a daily basis is so humongous that just a few fact-checking sites like BOOM, AltNews, Quint etc. are not sufficient enough. We almost need ‘counter-tsunami’ to crack down on it on an everyday basis. At the same time, people, especially in rural areas, also need to be made aware and as well-equipped in the ways to test the authenticity of a news item.