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How India Has Been Infected With Fake News In The Digital World

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This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

Fake news, as a major malaise, is not a recent phenomenon; however, with the advent of social media, the menace has acquired a lethal form. Fake news is stories based on false information and fabricated (with no verifiable facts) sources or quotes. It exists within a larger ecosystem of mis and disinformation.

If we look for the broader spectrum, social media covers all the factors which lead to the rise of fake news be it political or based on ideas. Today, we don’t just consume information from newspapers, television and radio but from social media platforms like Facebook, Whatsapp and Twitter. These bag the primary positions for spreading fake news.

Representational image.

With the ever-growing popularity of social media, the amount of fake news surfaced is one of the biggest concerns across the world. India is not alone in who fight against the menace of fake news but the phenomenon of fake news is much more severe because of the country’s rapidly growing social media base and careless regulation of social media platforms.

In the days of COVID-19, fear has gripped people’s life because of raising concerns with regard to the Virus, which are not always based on real facts. As soon as India reported its first COVID-19 case, the country’s social media space suddenly experienced a massive spike in all kinds of information in the form of videos, short interviews, movies, and documentaries on a range of issues related to the pandemic.

Millions of fake messages including catchy and appealing videos promoting the miraculous power of cow urine, or Gaumutra, in curing the disease began to flood the pages on most prominent social media platforms. This has further added to the confusion about Covid-19 management.

While going through an in-depth study of various facets of fake news, one of the interesting factors which emerge is fake news is not restricted to few thousand users on social media. In the case of COVID-19, they have been amplified by leaders in positions of power across the World. For example, US President Donald Trump said injecting people with disinfectants or exposure to sunlight could cure COVID-19. India’s Yoga Guru Ramdev suggested applying mustard oil through the nostrils can be a useful remedy to fight against the pandemic.

Keeping aside the political impact, fake news in India has affected the economy to its core. A rumour that consumption of Chicken could lead to Covid-19 infection spread like a wildfire. It caused massive damage to the poultry industry as many people stopped consuming chicken.

To cut it short, India has been simultaneously fighting two viruses; one real and the other being the fake one but equally lethal.

Fake news and misinformation have created numerous hurdles for governments at all levels; Union, the state and the local, in their fight against the pandemic.

Media plays a pivotal role in the spread of fake news.

News channels prefer stories that boost their TRP to ones that are actually relevant. The news provided is mostly biased towards a particular political party.

But the story does not end here.

fake news in india
To cut it short, India has been simultaneously fighting two viruses; one real and the other being the fake one but equally lethal.

In India, fake news is more dangerous as it leads to polarization and violent crimes, like lynching. As reported by The New York Times, six months before the 2014 general elections in India, 62 people were killed in sectarian violence and 50,000 were displaced from their homes in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. Investigations by the police found that a fake video was shared on WhatsApp to “whip up sectarian passions”.

Fake videos and pictures were used to deceive people during elections. Such issues play a vital role as the Election is also the perfect time to showcase the good work done by a leader or a political party.

On a daily basis, people rely more on social media for news. The audience fails to differentiate between real and fake news.

Fact-Checking: A Cardinal Rule For A Journalist

I do agree that as journalists, we do have limitations but I have always valued the importance of busting fake news as these deceive readers.

It is a tough responsibility on the part of journalists to identify fake news. As a journalist, I believe that three important steps must be followed to track fake news; on-ground verification, determining facts with the location and determining the time. A journalist should draw a line while studying the research as fake news competes with real news for audience attention as well as for credibility. Journalism cannot always be blamed for encroachments of external forces.

News should not be ‘created’ in the newsrooms. Sadly this rule is being violated in most cases these days.

We, as humans, are overwhelmed with emotions and avoid hitting the rock bottom. Sadly, we no longer try to read and understand the narrow political and other parochial agenda behind the generation and spread of sensational news but accept uncritically whatever a section of the mainstream media shows.

The pressing need of the hour is to strictly adhere to certain journalistic ethics. We need to frame rules and regulations outlawing such demeaning practices that put into question the very essence and the legitimacy of Media; which is supposed to play a very vigilant role in educating and nurturing a free, modern, democratic and liberal social and political system.

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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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