There is no doubt that social media has become a platform for making faster connections and robust networking. Nonetheless, it has presented us with a new problem in this digital age—fake news. In simple words, ‘false news’ is a kind of propaganda that uses misinformation and hoaxes to create a (dis)-illusion of reality. There have been numerous instances of fake news that has been spreading all over the world. In India, it’s more dangerous as it has lead to polarisation and violent crimes.
The instances of fake news have become so much that for the first time in India, the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) has provided statistics on fake news. The statistics provided by the NCRB thus designates ‘fake news’ as a crime. Reports show how there have been instances of 257 reported cases against fake news in India, where Madhya Pradesh has topped the list with 138 cases followed by Uttar Pradesh with 32 cases.
BBC claims that India has a huge population and thus, has a great number of users of Facebook and WhatsApp. It can be inferred that due to the low data tariff, people are using these social media platforms and falling into the trap of fake news. Incidents like lynching due to fake claims of kidnapping or rumours of beef being transported are increasing.
What happens is that a person shares a fake incident via WhatsApp and then this is forwarded to a number of people without checking the authenticity of the news. This helps spread the ‘propaganda’ set by a few people. The lynching and resulting death of Akhlaq, who was killed over the suspicion of storing beef at home, the lynching of people by a mob in Assam due to the spread of fake news regarding “baccha chori“(child kidnapping) are cases in point.
The NCRB has included incidences of violence as a result of fake news in their data. But, I think what’s happening is that people aren’t trusting the law to take its course and would rather take justice into their own hands, resulting in mob-lynchings.
Thus, fake news is spread with the intention to incite violence by polarising people. Those who take part in such violence are most certainly do so due to some kind of a political ‘agenda’. There are certain laws and policies that exist and are also in the making like our cyber laws, the Information Technology Act, the proposal to link people’s Aadhar with their social media accounts to curb the incidents of fake news and to make tracing the perpetrators easy.
However, these policies are debatable and need research before bringing them to life, and dimensions of privacy need to be looked at. For the same purpose, various media groups like The Hindu, the BBC, etc, have joined hands in a global campaign against fake narratives. There are different ways to check the news if it’s fake or real.
The following lines should remind us of our roles to ‘speak up’ for those who need our empathy:
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
Note: The author is part of the current batch of the Writer’s Training Program.