This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Ishita Mehal. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

How Did Social Media Go From Harmless Good Morning Messages To Fake News?

There’s this quote usually attributed to actor Amitabh Bachchan, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” But the funny thing about it, there’s reason to doubt he ever said this at all, thus, ironically, proving the quote.

Today, no matter who said it, it is truer than ever before. The speed with which information spreads has created the ideal conditions for the phenomenon of fake news to thrive. It refers to false or highly distorted information that is intended to manipulate and mislead us.

fake news woman on whatsapp
Representational image.

Only a few decades ago, the news was broad-based. Our choices were limited to a couple of newspapers and TV networks. Now, the quantity of news just a click away is limitless, but the time or energy we have to absorb and evaluate it is not.

Recent advances in communication technology have had immeasurable benefits in breaking down the barriers between information and people. The internet has multiplied the amount of information and viewpoints, with social media, blogs and online videos turning every citizen into a potential reporter.

But if everyone is a reporter, nobody is, and different sources may disagree not only on opinions but on the facts themselves.

Moreover, our desire for quick information overpowers the need to be certain of its validity. And when this desire to forward messages without verifying it is multiplied by billions of people worldwide nearly instantaneously, it has devastating consequences, sometimes even life-threatening.

In India, we’ve been grappling with terrible incidents of WhatsApp killings. It seems unrealistic, but over 30 people were killed by rampaging mobs not because they committed a crime but solely on suspicion of being child kidnappers over rumours spread on WhatsApp. India must be the only country where social media rumours have led to such brutal murders.

Remember when WhatsApp used to be clogged with innumerable sweet good morning quotes? How did we go from those harmless good morning messages to a hub of misinformation and fake news?

If we were to believe all the news sent on WhatsApp, then we have already found a cure for cancer, NASA captured India’s image from space to know how it looks during Diwali and COVID is cured by inhaling steam at 75°C. These headlines went viral across social media platforms, with the latter causing burn injuries.

We have been flooded with misinformation. A 2018 BBC study claims that nearly 72% of Indians have difficulty distinguishing real information from made-up ones.

Why Do We Fall For Fake News?

Indian newspapers
Representational Image. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

According to human psychology, one major theory propounded worldwide is that of confirmation or cognitive bias as the root of the problem—the idea that we selectively seek out information that confirms our beliefs, truth be damned.

This fascinating and equally dangerous aspect psychology highlights is that the only thing behind the devastating outcomes of fake news is nothing but our own minds playing clever tricks on us.

We believe in a certain religious or political ideology. So when we get information that aligns with that, we have this extra urge to forward it to people who again believe in that ideology. We don’t step back and question ourselves about the veracity of the information.

Experiments show that even when people encounter balanced information containing views from differing perspectives, they tend to find supporting evidence for what they already believe.

When it comes to falling for deceptive headlines, the problem lies in the lack of reasoning and thinking critically to uncover the truth. Many educated people feel that only the uneducated fall for fake news, but studies show that those with higher education are just as likely to fall for it as others, especially if it confirms their worldview.

There are more people reading news on the internet every day and there’s a downside to it. Social media platforms provide personalised recommendations based on the vast amounts of data they have about our past preferences. They prioritise news in our feeds that we are most likely to agree with—no matter how fringe—and shield us from information that might change our minds.

This creates a false reality that not just one or two people buy into, but thousands.

If continued to be perpetrated, these lies can turn deadly and threaten societal stability by creating a highly polarised society. Moreover, it affects our electoral choices because we rely on accurate information to make good choices about public policy, healthcare, the economy and other issues.

Apart from spreading fake news, misinformation campaigns divert attention from serious problems.

Where Does This False Information Come From?

john oliver on arnab
Representational image.

Fake news can be misheard or misquoted from a real news piece, made up to make money or views for a news outlet, designed to promote a person or a party for political gain or be misunderstood from a joke or satirical post and taken as a fact.

Political parties use it to sow seeds of distrust and prejudice ahead of elections, as we are seeing today. Even memes and jokes that appear funny and innocuous might carry misinformation to implant a certain idea unconsciously in your mind to fulfil an agenda.

News outlets do it to garner TRPs as for them news is business. In a rush to encourage views, many outlets resort to misleading headlines, play up dramatic conflicts in the name of debates and focus on big personalities to draw an audience rather than providing contextual details or data on issues that matter.

When something sensational happens, every media outlet wants to put it out as soon as possible to attract more people to their websites so that they click on the ads that generate revenue.

The 24-hour news cycle has led to an increase in competition but also decreased time for fact-checking. Instead of news being the product, our attention has become the product in the form of clicks and views. This is called the “attention economy”.

There is an entire industry out there that puts forward bigoted, abhorrent, and hatred filled narratives that are completely fake to touch our emotional cards so that we don’t think logically before forwarding. Unfortunately, negative content spreads faster than positive. Hence, it is easy to manipulate emotions by creating narratives that trigger responses such as hatred, disgust, fear and anxiety.

And even if it isn’t something we would normally believe, the surprising and shocking nature of the content plays on our emotions and gets us to share it. We all trust our families and friends, so when they send something on to us that might contain false information, we’re more likely to believe them and then, in turn, share it with others that we trust too.

Imagine a web of contacts slowly getting larger as fake news is passed between different trusted networks; that’s how it spreads. As Johnathan Swift said, ‘Falsehood flies and the truth comes limping after it.’

While fake news presents a general crisis for our democracy, the online spread of disinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that it also presents threats to public health. Soon before the first cases were recorded in the country, top social media platforms were rife with misinformation about the origin of the virus, how it spreads, and ways to cure the disease by simply consuming garlic and onions.

This massive surge of fake news undermines people’s access to legitimate and fact-checked sources of information.

So Then, Which News Outlet Should We Trust?

zee news andolanjivi
Representational image.

The media’s job is to give a voice to the voiceless and oppressed. It is supposed to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. It should offer you an insight that challenges your existing beliefs.

While good journalism aims for objectivity, media bias is often unavoidable. According to a study published in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy – There are two ways to tell that powerful interests might be trying to manipulate our opinion:

  1. When the media seems to be trying to give opinions rather than reporting facts.
  2. When all of them are reporting the same stories, promulgating the same narratives, relying on the same sources by using the same phrases—an organised campaign.

Is there any way to keep good journalism alive? Yes, by paying to keep news free of advertisers. We must encourage and support independent subscription-driven digital news media devoted to research, fact-checking and in-depth investigation of issues that matter.

How Do We Combat Fake News On Social Media Though?

In this day and age, we’re all publishers and we have a responsibility. We are the ones who share news stories online and can each help safeguard our democracy by improving the accuracy of how we read and what we share online.

Primarily, analyse the headline. Was it written to elicit an emotional reaction such as hatred or anger? Think about the real-life ramifications of the information we share and its potential to incite violence. While some headlines can be both shocking and true, a juicy headline may often mean that the article is most likely not concerned with the truth.

Before you share that unbelievable or outrageous news item, do a web search to find any additional information or context you might have missed. If you aren’t completely sure that the hot scoop you want to serve is accurate, then don’t share it.

According to a 2016 Columbia University study, 6 out of 10 news articles were not even read beyond the headlines by the user prior to sharing it on social media.

Read the entire story, not just the headline. Look at the website that originally posted the story. Is it from a reputable news organisation or reporter? Is the story believable and logical? Is it straightforward news or an editorial or opinion piece trying to persuade you? Could it be a satire or hoax?

And be careful because many propaganda outlets use names and designs suspiciously similar to reputed news outlets.

fake news
Representational image.

Choose facts over opinions. In most situations, different news organisations will report the same basic facts. If you can’t corroborate these facts across several reputable outlets, there’s a good chance the story is fake or misleading. You can also use reliable fact-checking websites.

Watch out for anonymous reports that rely on “unknown sources”. These could be people who have little connection to the story or have an interest in influencing coverage, their anonymity making them unaccountable for the information they provide.

Old news is often re-posted on social media to get more clicks and advertising money. Check the date and make sure the information is current, accurate and relevant.

Check your personal biases that can cause you to avoid scepticism. As mentioned before, we tend to be the least sceptical of stories that reinforce our existing values and beliefs. Therefore, when you read or watch a news story, consider whether your pre-conceived notions are causing you to think or feel a particular way about the story.

Relying upon a few like-minded news sources limits the range of material available to people and increases the odds of falling victim to hoaxes or rumours. Therefore, follow a diverse group of people and views. Read coverage in multiple outlets which employ different reporters and interview different experts.

Be curious about opposing views and listen to what others have to say and why. This helps us see issues and beliefs from another perspective, though we still need to be very conscious of wading past our confirmation bias.

Today, we are freer than ever from the old media gatekeepers who used to control the flow of information. But with freedom comes the responsibility to ensure that this flow does not become a flood, leaving us less informed than before we took the plunge.

Nearly every theory of human decision making, cooperation and coordination have some sense of the truth at its core. But with the rise of fake news, we are teetering on the brink of the end of reality, where we cannot tell what is real and what is fake and that’s incredibly dangerous.

We have to be vigilant in defending the truth against misinformation with our technologies, policies and, most importantly, with our individual responsibilities, decisions, behaviours and actions.

Created by Ishita Mehal

Have you received fake news on social media and did you verify it before sharing it?
You must be to comment.

More from Ishita Mehal

Similar Posts

By Vanshika Gadekar

By Ranjeet Menon

By samriddhi rai

    If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at actnow@youthkiawaaz.com

      If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at actnow@youthkiawaaz.com

        If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at actnow@youthkiawaaz.com

        Wondering what to write about?

        Here are some topics to get you started

        Share your details to download the report.









        We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

        Share your details to download the report.









        We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

        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.

        Share your details to download the report.









        We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

        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.

        Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below