By Charchit Kumar

(20/05/2020 20:00 IST)

In the times of the great battle with this pandemic, COVID-19, a mere issue of fake news may seem unrelated or unappealing to some. But now, more than ever, we need to address and cope with this issue because in these “testing” times the virus COVID-19 is not the only thing that’s spreading. Misinformation, fake news, rumors, all are at their peak and now, they have become even more harmful. As in the current context, misinformation may prove not just misleading but also dangerous and maybe even deadly.

At the time when all of the humanity is united in their suffering and their fight with this crisis, the people who are deliberately spreading misinformation are not just working against the law, they are also working against humanity. But the question arises that why are such people doing this? What is the motive that drives them? In order to get an answer to this question, we need to get at the depth of this problem. We need to understand that although fake news has been spreading from the time unknown, it has not always been deliberate. In fact, in the earlier times, fake news mostly originated from misunderstandings. It is only very recently that spreading fake news took the form of a “profession”. Nowadays, it is very likely and indeed very often found that the people who spread fake news are not common, innocent people. Instead, they are professionals in this line of “work”. In a study conducted by the Center for Information Technology and Society at UC Santa Barbara, it has been suggested that most of the fake news are intentionally originated by some websites which have the sole motive of making financial gains by spreading misinformation. The possessors of such websites, trade facts for clicks. To gain as many clicks as possible on their websites, they carefully utilize existing fears, opinions, superstitions and beliefs of people and mindfully manipulate real facts to create such misleading information that is as attractive, as spicy and as “clickable” as possible. Such people are running a ‘factory of fake news’.

However, they are not the only people running such a ‘factory’. You may be surprised to know that most of the political parties in our country organize, fund and run their own official ‘IT cells’. The main objective of these ‘IT cells’ is to run the social media campaign of the parties. Many of these have a large nationwide network operating on multiple platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and so on. These have their reach from the bustling cities to even the remotest of towns and every now and then, many types of biased and baseless news are circulated and forwarded on such networks. The parties are well aware of the scope of misinformation on the networks maintained by their IT cells, but they do not appear to do much on the matter. Allegedly, some political parties, even manufacture and using fake news to their benefits, spreading hatred and misinformation against the opposition to win votes. So, is it working? According to a report by India Today news channel, “Propaganda and rumors appear to have ruled the 2019 Lok Sabha elections like never before”. But has the politics in our country gone that dirty? Considerably, there are many things pointing to yes, as an answer.

BJP President Amit Shah was reported saying that, “We can make anything go viral, whether real or fake.”. He stated this while addressing the BJP’s social media volunteers in Kota, Rajasthan. But how do they exactly do it? How does their fake news spread so fast? Fascinatingly, the spread of fake news is quite similar to the spread of a virusInitially, a single person develops the virus, then he/she passes it on to his/her friends, relatives, family, and other close “contacts”. They then pass it on to other people and the chain goes on. Likewise, when a soul makes a bit of false news, he/she distributes it on his/her social media. People like you and me unknowingly become the bearers of this ‘fake news virus’ when we forward them to our close “contacts” and groups, who tend to further forward it and create a “chain of cattle farm”. And so, in time, the fake piece of news goes “viral”.

Now we may wonder, “Is there no solution for this problem?” Interestingly, Governments, news agencies, various non-governmental organizations, and even some social media platforms are increasingly becoming aware of the potentially drastic effects of misinformation and are running various campaigns to fight it. PIBFactCheck is the official fact check bureau of PIB (Press Information Bureau) of the Indian government. This govt. initiative tries to swiftly identify and report viral rumors in the Indian Society. The News agency named “ALT News” is also running a similar campaign. Recently, the popular social media platform Facebook has also taken a significant initiative for coping with fake news. It has partnered with third-party “fact-checkers” to limit the spread of fake news on the platform.

Sadly, all of these are good initiatives, but they are not enough. Neither can they catch each and every piece of misinformation nor can they reach everyone who is misinformed. They have their own limits. Their “chain of spread” is not as fast and as wide reaching as that of the “fake news virus”. So, does this mean that this is just “Another virus without a vaccine?”. Perhaps, but that does not mean it can’t be broken. Are we not fighting Coronavirus even when it has no vaccine or treatment? We are. Similarly, we have to fight this “fake news virus.” It does not have any vaccine or treatment, but it does have a precaution. We have to break its “chain of spread” like we are doing with the COVID 19. We have to take an oath, that we will hold every bit of news that we receive for this “virus” and entirely later we become certain that it does not contain traces of this virus, only and only then we will forward it. You can take the following steps to determine the legitimacy of a piece of news: -

1. Google it! - The best way is to check it out on google. Most probably the search results would show you if the news is fake or real.

2. Consult a fact checking website- We would highly recommend subscribing to official social media handles of fact checking websites. That way you would be notified whenever they catch a piece of viral fake news. You can also manually visit the sites to verify your doubts about a particular news.

3. Check the dates- sometimes even old pieces of real news are used to create fake impressions. Just because an event is real, doesn’t mean it is relevant to the current scenario. So, always double check the dates.

4. Check your own biases- Last but not the least, don’t get stuck up in your own biases. Do not believe anything just because it suits your ideology and do not reject anything as fake just because it doesn’t suit you. Believe in authenticity and look for it even when it goes against your bias.

The day that every citizen starts to follow this. India will be free from the ‘fake news virus’. Until then, Stay Home, Stay Safe and Stay Away from Misinformation.

About Author.

Charchit Kumar

Desk Editor


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