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How To Extract Facts From The Chaos Of Media

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Muddy water is best cleared by leaving it alone,said Alan Watts.

In the last 20 years or so, we have grown accustomed to the overload of continuously running news stories in major news channels. We often tend to forget that, these are just versions of the truth as seen by different media groups at best and propaganda at worst. The dilemma this has left us in is not an easy one to overcome and most of us are dealing with it in a way that most media/propaganda expects us to. Human beings need to have consensus on facts to thrive as social beings. In the absence of consensus, confusion, and conflict are inevitable. So how do we beat the propaganda machine and filter out the facts from the chaotic stream of information and misinformation?

Understanding How Media Works

In short, every media outlet aims at one metric as the measure of their popularity, which they in turn use to attract advertisements. For a media outlet like a TV channel, this metric is essentially the viewership and viewer engagement. In the case of social media, these metrics are called the number of active users and user engagement. More viewership/active users, implies more people are seeing the content. Higher viewer engagement/user engagement implies more people are interested in the story. Viewer engagement is usually measured by looking at the number of social media mentions for the television programs, social media handles, incoming calls or messages within a window of 24 hours before and after a show is aired. User engagement in social media is measured in the number of comments and shares the content generates within 24 hours of sharing it on the main page. Any media/social media conglomerate at any point in any working day is interested in growing these metrics.

For representation only.

The second most important aspect of any media conglomerate is to keep their advertisers and investors happy. This means they cannot report negative things about people who hold a significant stake in their working capital. They also cannot float any news which will paint any of their advertisers in a bad light. Usually, this is enforced by business contracts that are signed during the final sale of advertisement spots.

In other words, we do not know of any incentives that media groups stand to receive, for ethical and honest reporting of news. As any capitalist would tell you, if you’re not compensated/rewarded/appraised for performing certain fundamental aspects of a business role, that aspect cannot be assumed as a part of your business role and hence, you’re under no obligation to carry it out. So what happens if honest reporting has no incentive? It gradually ceases to be a priority and is replaced by increasing users and user engagement. The bottom line is that—the media is no longer under any obligation to report facts to you.

Navigating The Overload Of Information

So given what we know about media outlets, how do we continue to use them to get authentic information about the world we live in? We can’t obviously completely shut ourselves off the world and live in ignorance. So what do we do? Albert Einstein believed that a purely mathematical statement is the only thing that will hold true anywhere in the universe. No matter where you are in the universe, no matter how intense the gravity in your planet is, no matter how strong a black hole’s gravitational pull becomes, if you add 1 to 1 anywhere in the universe, you’re left with 2. Our salvation as a species also lies in maths. More specifically, data and statistics should form your opinions rather than your favorite late-night host.

Let’s take the case of GDP growth in India. Most people think that United Progressive Alliance-2 (UPA-2) was one of the most corrupt governments to have ever been elected in India and Modi’s National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is doing a much better job than UPA in terms of economic growth. However, data suggests that not only has India’s growth rate plummeted to 7%, the unemployment rate is at an all-time high, India also has a high number of NPAs (Non-Performing Assets) in its public sector banks, making access to capital even more challenging. Looking at this data, it is pretty clear that India has in fact slowed down as an economy, but is the Modi government to blame for this? To answer this question, we have to look at similar economies around the world and see if they recorded a decline, and if they have, then this can partially be attributed to a global decline. If we look at China, the situation is almost similar, the growth has slowed down and NPAs in its public banks are even worse than India (It has always been so in China). So we know there is likely a global slowdown and that has resulted in slower growth in India. But if we follow the media, the narrative we receive would be to either blame Modi/demonetisation for slower growth or worship Modi and paint a flowery picture of the economy. Neither of which seems to be the truth.

Understanding Personal Biases And Stakes

Often, social media sites and the content shared by major media groups are designed to generate a lot of user engagement. In a 2014 experiment titled ‘Consumer Demand for Cynical and Negative Newsframes’ by Marc Trussler and Stuart Soroka, clear evidence of “negativity bias” or affinity towards negative news, was observed in most test subjects. The typical reaction to a concerning negative story among these test subjects was to plunge even deeper into it. This research also concludes that media groups continuously use this psychology to lure users into a vicious cycle of negative news which often triggers engagement (like comments/shares, etc) at some point. Furthermore, the study concluded that social media sites are designed to create a “you versus the rest of the world” kind of feel for the user. This explains why people get emotional reactions to negative comments, even though the original comment has nothing to do with them personally. Once users become more aware of the underlying social programming involved in making them react this way, they will know better than to engage in such interactions or let such interactions emotionally affect them.

Another important psychological concept known as confirmation bias haunts most people who spend more than 6 hours a week on average on social media, as per a research paperPartisan Asymmetries in Online Political Activity’ by Michael D Conover, Bruno Gonçalves,  Alessandro Flammini & Filippo Menczer. This is when you unknowingly assume something to be true and seek out information that would help you confirm your belief. In fact, this is extensively used by our brain whenever it gets an overflow of information (often contradicting). For example, if you read this article and googled ‘India’s growth more than UPA years’, you’re actively seeking out information which would confirm your internalised belief that the Modi government is doing better than UPA. You may find information which confirms your belief, but that is only because you sought out that opinion, from a pile of contradicting opinions on the same topic.

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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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