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Before You Believe That WhatsApp Forward, Find Out If It’s Fake News

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Fake news|झूठी ख़बरें 

India is the largest democracy in the world, people have been enjoying the democratic nature of this country since the formation of the constitution. Now if I tell you that the democratic establishment of this country is at risk, you might be surprised but this is the harsh reality, and the reason behind this is the propaganda of fake news.

The wave of fake news came into light during the Presidential Elections of the United States in 2016. It all started in Macedonia, with some youngsters creating pro-Trump websites to gain traffic and earn money through advertisements .i.e. clickbait. This business model eventually became successful, and believe it or not it had an impact on the election results too. The Guardian did a story on this issue, highlighting the business and the money involved in the fake news propaganda online.

But in India, the propaganda of fake news is not just a mere business model but also a political propaganda. The business of fake news involve politicians, journalists, political activists and even the mainstream media outlets, risking the trust of people; the ultimate goal of fake news is perception management. Photoshopped images, WhatsApp forwards and doctored videos are being posted online to manipulate the masses.

In May 2017, just a day before the third anniversary of the inauguration of the current central government, Bhartiya Janta Party, a mob in the eastern state of Jharkhand went on a killing spree, triggered by a simple WhatsApp message. Three innocent men were beaten to death by an uncontrolled mob that falsely assumed that those men were human traffickers, based on the warning they received in the message. A total of seven men were killed mercilessly, in a fury that was born on social media and based on baseless information that people received on WhatsApp in Jharkhand. Similar incidents have been reported from the West Bengal region too.

When I go through social media platforms, Facebook and Twitter etc, I find fake news quite often but the first noticeable event I came across was when a celebrated political leader posted fake news on social network was when— Lalu Prasad Yadav tweeted a doctored image of his own rally in order to increase his impact on social media. And after this, there were dozens of reports of different verified accounts posting fake news online.

Chhattisgarh’s PWD Minister Rajesh Munat, to promote his state’s impeccable infrastructure, shared a picture on Twitter of a Vietnamese bridge as a bridge in Raigarh.

The sad part is the involvement of mainstream media houses. In March last year, it was reported by some media houses that the UP government had launched a WhatsApp number to address public grievances. This number was actually started by Ghaziabad Railway Police to provide help during train journeys.

Online websites like www.hindutva.info, www.postcard.news, www.newspool.in and bbcnewshub have a huge traffic and are spreading mostly fake news. Not only this there are active pages on Facebook such as — “I SUPPORT RAHUL GANDHI”, “I SUPPORT NARENDRA MODI” and “PRESSTITUTES” have a strong audience base and are into money making through fake news and most of their posts are inclined towards spreading communal tensions.

These online platforms publish articles that are ought to be viral and are easily digestible.

The Facebook page “I Support Rahul Gandhi” with approximately nine thousand followers posted an image online which was shared more than five thousand times, stating that, “A research by BBC News Hub says that Modi in the list of most corrupt personalities stands seventh.”—This is actually a hoax, as the link to the given BBC media house is not the actual BBC media house, but a small time website that has nothing to do with the real BBC media house.

Even those so-called the political activists have given up all morals and their indulgence has shaken those who follow them. RSS Worker Puneet Sharma’s Twitter account is followed by Narendra Modi himself. Puneet Sharma shared a video of a gruesome murder in Mexico, stating that this was the video of the murder of an RSS worker in Kerala, and captioned it — “अगर यह देख कर भी हिंदुओ का ख़ून नहीं खौला तो वो ख़ून नहीं पानी है। (If this doesn’t make the blood of Hindus boil, then it is not blood, it is water).

Abhishek Mishra, a YouTuber, who has a good audience over his Twitter account, on August 8, 2017 tweeted — “BJP is world’s fourth most corrupt political party.” The link mentioned under this tweet was of an independent unverified website called hindi.siasat.com and when it was double checked this website turned out to be as fake as Mishra’s tweet.

In another incident, it was claimed that Infosys Co-founder Narayan Murthy praised PM Modi on social media: “I don’t say Modi is the best Prime minister, but it’s the first time I watched PM’s speech other than that on 15th August.” In response to this Mr Murthy stated, “While I have tremendous respect for our Prime Minister, I must say that are not my words.”

The truth is, due to the involvement of mainstream media in corruption, as exposed by Cobrapost’s Operation 136, people have somewhere lost faith in them. In this time, it is easier for small time independent websites to fool the masses. As a result, fake news is spreading ten times faster.

With an increase in the amount of traffic online, the effect of fake news is more drastic. Urban India has witnessed a growth of 9.66% from last year whereas rural India witnessed a growth of 14.11% in online traffic as compared to last year. 

To fight against fake news, new online websites have come up to assist us and to detect the doctored digital content in order to protect journalism.

The fake news buster websites are —

SM HOAX SLAYER (English)

ALT NEWS (English)

MEDIAVIGIL (Hindi)

There are certain ways by which one can identify the fake digital content —

• If you doubt the published article, Google it and if you do not see it on verified websites, the article is most likely to be fake. 

•If you doubt the published image; just verify the context of the image by clicking “Search Google for image”. Just by clicking the first image you will know it’s real published date on the internet and the context for which the photograph was uploaded will also be known.

So next time when you see a WhatsApp forward making a fuss, or any news on social media that looks quite unacceptable, do cross-examine. Trust the most trusted media outlets. Stay informed, and save the democratic establishment of this country by not falling prey to the fake news propaganda.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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