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How India Is Responding To Fake News

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As per a report, at least 31 people have lost their lives between 2017-18. With more than a billion active mobile phone users, the proliferation of smartphones and cheap data packages, the problem is only getting worst as rumours spread at a faster speed. People are already dying. The question here is, what worst can we expect?

With deaths and murders involved, we are getting pretty serious and taking all the measures possible to curb fake news. We suggest you read our article on How To Spot Fake News.

Step 1: Defining fake news

The word ‘Fake News’ started popping up in conversations after it became the ‘Word of the Year’ in 2017 when Trump began shouting out this word and the news channel debates started flashing the photoshopped Whatsapp forwards. Although fake news always existed, the word gained popularity in India only a few years back. Owing to its sudden spread in India, fake news was like a broad umbrella with many meanings and concepts attached to it. According to Pankaj Jain, an active fake news slayer, fake news can be a bit of misleading term. It can mean many things- a mistake, an intentional twisting of a news story, fabricating information, news sowing confusion etc.

Thus in this confused environment, if we want to discourage and condemn the spread of misinformation, we first need to define it. Responding to this need, the Press Council of India in 2018 published a definition of fake news. The chairman of PCI, Justice Chandramauli Kumar Prasad, titled as “Response of Chairman on Fake News” which outlined the definition of fake news.

Along with the definition, the report also stated that accreditation of journalists could also be suspended if they are found disseminating fake news, but only in gross cases of fake news.

Step 2: Regulating the social media giants

If you’re an active Whatsapp user you might have noticed a new feature while using the app. If you receive a forwarded message, it is labelled as ‘Forwarded’. This indicates the message has been forwarded to someone from another user and not composed by the sender. Well, this move comes after immense pressure from the Indian government to the messaging app to take immediate action to curb fake news. In July 2018, the Indian Government warned Whatsapp to take immediate and urgent action to stop the spread of “irresponsible and explosive messages filled with rumours and provocation”

The app is also working on a Suspicious Link Detention feature to curb the spread of spam messages, which they are currently testing on their beta version of the app. The feature will automatically detect and identify suspicious links which will redirect the users to fake news websites. And accordingly, will alert the user with a marked red label.

As Whatsapp groups are where the major problem lies, the app is giving more control to the group admins with the Whatsapp ‘Send Message’ feature. So now, the group admin can decide whether all the participants or only the admin can send messages to the group. This is essentially useful for large groups which are mainly for broadcasting information. This reduces the chances of circulation of fake news as only those who can be relied upon will be given the control to send messages. The app also announced a grant of $50,000 for social scientists and research groups to propose projects to understand the fake news problem.

Step 3: Involving those whom we trust

Sure, the government does its bit by issuing warning, notifications and public announcements. But, do we actually pay close attention to those? Umm… not really. But, if your dad or your office colleague brings it up in a discussion you’ll probably think about it. Thankfully, the UP Police understood this psychology which they are using to curb fake news. Uttar Pradesh has been in the headlines for mob lynching and violence taking place over fake news and messages.

To minimize these, the UP Police will be deploying ‘Digital Armies’ or volunteers who will keep a strict check on inflammatory posts and rumour-mongers. All the 1469 police stations in the state will shortlist 250 people from different walks of life including teachers, retired servicemen, retired army/policemen, student leaders, lawyers etc. Accordingly, each police station will have a Whatsapp group with 250 members. So if we multiply 250 into 1469, the state will have approximately 3,67,00 digital volunteers, helping curb fake news. Their role would be to inform the police about any incident or people who are spreading fake news and misinformation on social media.

Step 4: Forming a tech army

While the government is doing its bit to curb fake news, many other professionals have joined in for good. 22-year-old Lyric Jain, who is the founder of a UK based startup called Logically, has developed a machine learning algorithm which can examine fact from fiction. Here’s how it works. After sifting through all the top and biggest news stories, it highlights the features that make them fake. Like the headline, tone of the story, bias, inaccurate statistics etc.

Remember the news headlines which read the 2,000 rupee note being embedded with a ‘nano GPS chip’? Well, that was a fake news story which was first brought to light by Pankaj Jain, the founder of verification site SM Hoax Slayer. He began small by responding to messages to tell people that the message they are passing was not true and then he decided to take his cause further.

On an average he started getting over 150 messages from people every day, enquiring about the news content they received on the mobile messaging service WhatsApp. Till date, he has debunked 1,300 fake forwards on Whatsapp. Likewise, a team of computer science experts from IIT, Delhi are developing an app which will be able to flag the fake news messages. The app will be able to colour code the messages– green for legit content and red for fake news.

Step 5: Sensitising the youth

Being a netizen, we’re already a part of the fake news menace and have no choice but to deal with its implications. However, we can hope to secure the entire generation ahead by sensitising them about fake news right from their education level.
The district of Kunnur in Kerala witnessed a plethora of fake news incidents. From hyping the entire Nipah virus outbreak to claiming vaccination as harmful, which actually deterred many parents from getting their children vaccinated.

That’s when an IAS officer from that district, Mir Mohammed Ali started an initiative called Satyameva Jayate. Under this initiative, training will be given to high school students to identify fake news, inculcate the need to question the authenticity of information they receive, understand the psychology behind people sharing information, introduce them to concepts like filter bubble and click bait. He started by training 150 teachers who will pass on the training to the students.

They were also urged to Google and look up for authentic news sources. He further states that he wants the students to teach their parents as well, who are the ones easily gullible and forward messages without verification. This is happening around the world, where the educators are adopting a curriculum which teaches kids to distinguish facts from fiction. The curriculum was designed by an NGO called New Literacy Project which includes 12 lessons on fake news.

Sure, we are doing our bit to curb this menace, but there is a lot more India can learn from countries around the world. For instance, Malaysia has a law against fake news which makes it punishable and imposes a fine up to $1, 23,000 for the same. Germany fines social media networks if they fail to remove hateful posts and fake news. While France’s media legislation will soon see a complete overhaul in their media legislation. Compared to these stringent measures, we clearly need to up our game.

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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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