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Explained: How Yellow Journalism And Fake News Distract Us From Real Issues

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In the light of the many grave incidents, including lynchings of innocent men, the citizenry has finally opened its eyes to the perils of propagating misinformation. It has been brought to the attention of many that they should neither be creating false news nor spreading it around. Interestingly, there are no legal mechanisms in place for the same. Since one is not just the creator of misinformation, but also its consumer, one needs to have a basic understanding of journalistic practices involved in handling such materials with little to no truth. The media uses different types of tools for spreading news, sometimes for sensationalisation and sometimes for propaganda-like motives. In current times, it has become important to inform ourselves of these tools and how they function to refrain from circulating fatalistic falsehoods. Mentioned below is a description of what constitutes and what doesn’t constitute fake news along with some insights about yellow journalism, which is another variety of misinformation that needs to be studied under the ambit of fake news.

Difference between Yellow Journalism and Fake News

It is difficult to point out which news is Yellow and which one is fake as both of them have similar characteristics. The terms are, in fact, often used interchangeably. But, it is necessary to differentiate between them to recognise which is which. Yellow Journalism is when the editors spice up the news to make it saucier, raunchier. Fake News is a lie. Even though both these phenomena are evil, yellow journalism at least has half a truth, even if it is sensationalized to inappropriate proportions.

On the other hand, Fake News is complete bullshit, so to say. It blooms and wilts in a lie. Historically, Fake News has always been used for destructive and divisive purposes. The whites who supported segregation often spread the news about how blacks are diseased so that support for segregated toilets, drinking water taps, etc. would increase; before the Revolt of 1857, several fake news against the British were spread to turn the dissatisfaction of Indian soldiers into a revolt. The legacy of fake news is adding fuel to racism, anti-immigration views and cultural division.

Fake News has existed since the emergence of politics. It gradually became a warring strategy and was used as such. Julius Caesar and Cassius created and spread the fake news about foreigners. It existed when the Church controlled the information that would pass on when Hitler and Roosevelt printed news to throw each other off during WW2.

Fake News : 2016 version of Yellow Journalism

The seed of Yellow Journalism was planted due to the competition between Pulitzer and Hearst a century ago. Today, it is a fully grown, fruit-giving tree because of how much it sells, its huge audience and the rising profits it earns. But, yellow journalism has taken a nastier form of Fake News. Just as it started to sell more newspapers by tapping on people’s negative reactions like outrage, anger, sadness, indignation, etc., fake news applied the same formula but with even less effort as no accurate reportage is required for its creation. An MIT Lab study has shown that fake news travels six times faster than real journalistic stories.

The Formidability of Fake News

Social media and the state machinery are together working to make fake news a formidable weapon.

  • Social Media: The design of any fake news is such that it provokes intense negative emotions in the form of anger, indignation, fear or surprise. Such news gets widely circulated on social media. The newsfeed algorithms of social media provide viral contents to its users and receive the highest engagement in the form of likes, comments and reactions. Hence, news which triggers such reactions get an algorithmic promotion. The cycle keeps repeating and we’re trapped into it with no intention or consciousness.
  • Domesticity: A phenomenon which began by inducing a feeling of national pride, Fake News was used to charge the citizens’ patriotism to instigate them to wage war against other nations. The state machinery gradually realised that the same emotion of patriotism could be manipulated such that within the domestic territory even certain citizens can be pitted against others by dividing the nation’s population into ‘us’ and ‘them’. Donald Trump raging a war against Indian-Americans, Latin-Americans, Black Americans, basically on everyone who is non-white is often based off on the lines that “they’re taking our jobs”, “we are wasting our taxes on them”. Even though these statements are statistically wrong, they’re used to divide cultures and American people.

Profits From Fake News

Google does not allow its advertisers to choose whether their advertisements will go on fake news sites or ethical journalism sites. Therefore, fake news sites have several ads on them. As explained above, such websites operate according to the concept of clickbait ‘journalism’. If a fake story goes viral, the owner of the site can earn a lot of cash as many will click on the ads in the story. Google earns in millions due to the fake news circuits and, hence, even with changed ad network rules, Google still allows a lot of fake news sites to use its ad network.

Even though fake news and yellow journalism are different, there impacts on the audience, at large, are the same. Both of these explicitly work to dumb down the readers and viewers, stop them from questioning the things they read and see, distract them from the real issues plaguing the world. Fake news and yellow journalism have become the armour and weapon of the government. To balance the argument, it is also important to note that sites like Facemata, User feeds, Crisp Thinking, etc. are working to disentangle the audience from the ropes of such evils. The question is, are they going to succeed with fake news and yellow journalism having revenues and investments in millions with stealth support from Google and Facebook?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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
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