By Palak Aggarwal
Everyone who uses WhatsApp knows about the rampant proliferation of fake messages and misinformation. Mir Mohammed’s talk titled ‘Fighting Fake News in Kannur’ at the Youth Ki Awaaz summit 2019, provided insights into combating this spread of misinformation. The session began with an exciting powerpoint slide titled, ‘Truth alone Triumphs?’—giving a heads up into the topic of fake news and misinformation. The second line of the slide, “My Experiments with Truth” was indeed the crux of his talk.
Mir is an officer of the 2011 batch of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), serving in the state of Kerala. He was posted as District Collector of Kannur in August 2016. As the District Collector, he was the prime mover behind the transformation of Kannur into India’s first plastic/disposable-free district. After a successful three year stint as Kannur Collector, he recently took charge as Director, Kerala State Suchitwa Mission that oversees the implementation of waste management schemes across the state.
Mir recounted an incident in December 2016 when an audio message was circulated on WhatsApp in the district of Kannur about kids being lifted from the streets and asking people to be safe and keep their children safe. As Mir said, this message went viral and people stopped sending their children to schools. The problem came to Mir’s notice, who then realised that the availability of free internet since September 2016 has boosted the proliferation of audios, videos and text messages on social media apps like WhatsApp. They initially thought that the matter won’t escalate much, but the realisation struck with time that people actually panicked due to that fake message.
Another incident shook Mir when almost 2 lakh students were affected due to the spread of a viral message against a vaccine provided by the government. The government planned to vaccine around 5 lakh students in district Kannur, but due to a fake video spreading misinformation about the content of the vaccine, around 2 Lakh people didn’t turn up for vaccinations.
This made Mir and his team understand the roots of the problem, and they planned to launch a campaign to target the youth and teach them the working of the internet. He appreciates the children and the youth of the country for questioning things, understanding them and then acting on it. He says so because—when explained about the spread of misinformation—the children actually defied their parents and got vaccinated.
He understood that the only way to go in a war against the spread of fake news is through the support of Satyamev Jayate (Truth triumphs everything) and the constitution. Mir quoted Article 51A(h) in the constitution of India, according to which, it is mandated that it shall be the duty of every citizen of India to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform. This project titled ‘Satyameva Jayate’ (Truth Alone Triumphs) trained teachers and students to identify, vet and respond to misinformation and fake news online.
The program included sensitization on:
Filter bubble which customises our internet experience is as per our choices. The program includes training for teachers and students, and the success of this program was judged on the basis of some tests that the students had to take later. The programme was implemented in over 200 schools in Kannur, covering over 80,000 children making it the first of its kind in the country.
After successful results in these tests, it was ensure that the community of Kannur knew how to tackle fake news. This is how Mir grappled with the issue of the spread of fake news and worked in combating it in the district of Kannur.