In a recent survey, the BBC found that coverage of ‘Fake News’ in the Indian media over the last three years or so has grown by nearly 200%. Sometimes these are click-bait articles, and other times the article is actually reporting something which is completely untrue.
Fake News, as the BBC describes it, is “information, however conveyed, in whichever format, on whatever platform, which is not fully supported by factual evidence.”
While click-bait is an attempt to get the reader to view a completely unrelated topic or advertisement, Fake News’ purpose is to spread of incorrect information about a political leader, or celebrity, or, for that matter, any public figure. In some cases, it is also about a place or country.
There is, of course, inaccurate reporting which is just an error on behalf of a news site, newspaper ,or news show. Unlike click-bait or Fake News, this is a genuine mistake made by reporters.
Fake News has had widespread circulation in our country in recent years, and typically because of a political or religious agenda. A lot of Fake News in recent times has been targeting the left wing—this means the ‘information’ must be coming from its competitor, the right wing, which also makes up our present government. Our government has shown an interest in curbing Fake News, yet it seems like an empty initiative if they are also interested in spreading Fake News!
Recently, a news site called My Nation published an article with the headline as “Girl asks RaGa tough questions in Dubai, Congress overseas secy office confirms it.” The article claimed that during Rahul Gandhi’s trip to Dubai, he encountered a 14-year-old girl who stumped him with her incessant questioning on his ideologies. The article mentions that he “dismissed it with a smile” and was unable to answer the questions of the child. This article has no evidence of the mentioned event, neither audio nor video.
Just after this article started circulating, Alt News took up the entire issue and fact checked it. They reached the conclusion that it was Fake News since “Rahul Gandhi addressed one public event at a stadium and two other events in which he spoke to university students in one and the workers at the Labor camp in another one.” At the stadium, he took no questions and this event was also broadcast live—the video shows no girl asking him questions. At the university, he took some questions from students, but even this event’s video shows no 14-year-old. And finally, Alt News confirmed that the girl mentioned was not at the Labor camp either. All these events were covered by the media and none of them show any signs of the 14-year old girl.
Even though these seemed to be false claims, the news had already spread like wildfire and succeeded in embarrassing Rahul Gandhi on social media. Was this Fake Fews concocted by the Congress’ main opponent, the BJP? I wouldn’t be surprised, since this is what has been happening for the past few months. It also seems to me that the recent elections saw a huge rise in the number of false news doing the rounds.
Fake News has become a tool of trying to control and manipulate public opinion in one’s own favour, which is exactly what is happening. Fake News about Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal had also surfaced. It was an old video of Kejriwal where he is seen talking about the Assembly elections in Punjab that took place in February 2017. The video’s speed was deliberately reduced to make him appear drunk, and slurring. A video like this destroys a politician’s credibility. People have shared the video putting captions such as “fake nationalist”, “good for nothing Kejriwal” and “Be careful while voting in future, Delhi.” Boom fact-checked the entire issue and confirmed that it was indeed an old video that had been modified.
In my opinion, we have an insincere government whose only aim is to demean and embarrass other political leaders and in order to to this they will resort to anything.
Most of the actions the government has taken against Fake News are associated with WhatsApp. The Union Information Technology Minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad, said that WhatsApp should put a system in place to stop a particular message being circulated in large numbers in any particular area of a state. “If in any state, any part, on a particular subject, if there is a movement of large volumes of messages on WhatsApp, it is not rocket science that can’t be discovered by application of technology. They must find a way to stop the spread of such messages,” Prasad said. This is one of the few moves the government has taken to prevent the spread of Fake News. They have clearly ignored all other ways that Fake News spreads.
The incidents I have mentioned are only a minute part of the Fake News industry, which appears to be led by our very own government. Isn’t it extremely odd that there has been no Fake News about our Right Wing government? So far it has only focused on the Indian National Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party.
Our present government seems to have a knack for completely avoiding being the target of Fake News, and the 2019 elections result seemed to have encouraged them tremendously to do whatever they want.