How to decode Fake News

“If you don’t watch news you remain uninformed” was the saying quite long ago.
Times have changed and so has the saying “ If you watch news you remain misinformed”. The present political scene has created quite a stir in people(except andhbhakts) about how it has been influencing the media .If you are blessed with a family whatsapp group you must have encountered forwards like “Nehruji was a muslim”, his father’s real name was Moinuddin ,”If Sardarji had been the first prime minister the scene had been different”. The propaganda of any wing that exists in the scene is to cater to innocent andhbhakts and propagate what they need.

Fear mongering linked to horrific violence leading to abductions ,killings have infected the streets. The main motive of such news is to cause the us vs them divide. This us vs them mentality inflames the urban rural divide ,the existing caste divide and the rising tide of islamophobia.This is done by instilling the feeling of nationalism in your mind.

Jency Jacob, founder of boom.in a fact checker website said that “Other than propaganda news ,wrong info about public health scares to food production have permeated the platform.”

The resource of internet has reached a larger no of people in India in the last 2 years but its literacy hasn’t.Insider outsider narrative is deployed in the messages and narratives to target a caste in particular.This us vs them mentality and its rise has been linked to the rise in right wing nationalism, a position espoused by PM Modi.

The influx of fake news has infected not only the social media but the mainstream media per se.
Channels like SudarshanNews,Zee news can be seen beholding the flags of andhbhakti (fake nationalism) in their debates propagating hatred and violence. THEIR propaganda is to reach the rural public whose media literacy is lesser and instill in them a sense of fake nationalism and hatred.Since ages many a castes have coexisted in India peacefully but the rise in the Hindu nationalism movement has cleaved the coexistence forcing people to choose us or them.

Fact checker websites like altnews.in,boomlive.in,check4spam.com,
smhoaxslayer,factchecker.in carry out reverse search in order to rectify the source of a fake news.Further independent news media communities or alternative media communities like Newslaundry not only decode what’s fake but in fact hold satires on the mainstream media channels and politicians who share and propagate made up and fake news.Such communities are totally ad free with their main motto to promote unbiased news. They work on a subscriber based model where individuals can contribute as little as 100 INR in order to keep the shop running.
Mainstream media channels like NDTV can also be seen beholding what’s true, keeping themselves unaffected from the present influence of power on mainstream media.

Unlike google and facebook, end to end encryption of platforms like whatsapp has made it almost impossible to find out the source of a fake forward or its path and hence in order to curb the same ,whatsapp has launched TV campaigns to fight fake news and even limiting the number of messages you can post in the group, and informing the receiver of a message whether its a forward or an original.

IT cells work 24×7 with the aim of polarising the public’s view.Take for example Ram Mandir vs Babri Masjid voting is doing the rounds on social media these days and to worsen the woes, and polarise the sensitive and communal issue, the message says the Supreme Court has left the decision to the citizens, news on Jawaharlal Nehru stating ‘ I am a muslim by culture and hindu by accident’ circulated quite around.

People in rural areas aren’t used to deciphering what is real and what is just straight up propaganda.Also studies have shown on platforms like whatsapp we don’t bother evaluating a news under the critical radar or eye because you trust the person or the group forwarding the message and it feels more personal unlike facebook and twitter.The adoption of technology has taken a toll in the last 2-3 years in india ,its literacy hasn’t been able to keep pace with it.

The absence of gatekeepers in platforms like whatsapp has shown that they use positive rhetorics while promoting a product and don’t take into account that their product may be poured with all kind of participation

Such fake forwards have been causes of gory crimes and lynchings of innocent beings.

 

Take for example the following incident :
In June 2018 a forward about child lifters kidnapping children by offering biscuits was doing rounds along with a video showing how they abduct minors.It stated that a large community base of the lifters had been sent to Singhbhum,Bangalore ,Chennai to capture children for trafficking.The news spread like wildfire with its sparks reaching states like Assam,Telangana,Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat.On 26th June, a 45 year old woman beggar of Sardar Nagar area was lynched to death by a mob of around 1000 people in Vadaj area on basis of suspicion.The deceased woman identified later as Shanta Devi had gone to Vadaj along with three other women to beg.Rumours were rife that a group of abductors was active in that area.Suddenly 5 to 6 people on account of suspicion caught hold of them and started thrashing them.In a moment a crowd of 500 to 700 came in and started raining blows and punches on them.The traffic policemen came in to rescue them but it was too late, Shanta Devi had succumbed to death and the other three were severely injured.Fake news in general has been the cause of 50 innocent deaths last year.In fact the video that was being forwarded along with the message was a safety video made for creating awareness about child trafficking in Karachi.

The epidemic of fake news has extended roots within the mainstream media also.For many news channels in India fake news has become a pleasure and a way to pave way for better TRP ratings.

Many parliament members have been found guilty of sharing fake pics of lush green roads boasting them as their city’s pride. The photos in fact have been sourced back to Poland,Vietnam. The line between what’s fake and what’s real has blurred to a large extent.

What drives us to share without verifying?

The difference between facts/reporting and opinion have been blurred and almost completely massacred thanks to digital news sources,especially platforms like fb,whatsapp. Not only this the bollywoodization of news has made it impossible for readers or viewers to keep their eyes off it.

Cynicism about the media’s motivation and intentions has forced the people to share something on the go without any verification.A widespread belief of the Indian media being motivated by profits(TRP’s ,funding) is in fact true.
The layered support to right and left wing opinions in the content of news channels and print media is not hidden to the people.

The huge volume of digital info that a user has to deal with on platforms like fb,whatsapp have forcefully shut their critical eye. They use spreading what they recieve on their end as a coping mechanism to the digital deluge that they have to face.
Further the need to stay updated and out obsession to make others updated about what we are updated with is the primary reasons behind the spread of fake news.

Further studies have shown that headlines that trigger an emotional response are most likely to be shared and indulged in.
For a normal user of platforms like fb or whatsapp engaged consumption is hard whereas sharing is easy, further such platforms have no mandatory requirement of sharing being only done after entire consumption.

Why we share what we receive ?

There are some categories that are considered to be important for all: non-political or soft news (for example, health) , updates (for example, ATMs are going to be closed for five days) or policy news ( for example, taxes have risen in the latest budget). Because these are seen as being of universal relevance, considerations of relevance do not come into play and they are shared very widely and very quickly.

The two broad ways in which sharing of fake news happens :
The first involves duty as a citizen ,or as an attempt to verify the news through the network. The second comes from a sense of purpose when sharing is for community and nation building or for projection of identity. Both these ways of sharing happen for a reason which is undeniable and hence questioning their viability becomes redundant.

Narratives of effective fake news messages :

..Messages circulated amongst those with a right wing identity include narratives regarding:
1. Anti Minority : With forwards stating how a particular community is planning to take over India , how their religion beliefs is being threatened. One belonging to right wing identity is bound to share such a forward as such without any verification because the deliberate made up fact fits in with his or her worldview and fulfilling his/her opinions.
2. Hindu Power and Superiority : This narrative boasts about the supposed glories of the ancient vedic age informing you that almost all of great achievements in the ancient age had their roots in ancient India, how the western culture is dominating our present but hindus are strong enough to not be affected by their tactics unlike non hindus, how hindus are superior to non hindus.
3. Progress and Preservation of nation’s pride -This narrative is built around a central narrative of how India’s near unstoppable progress is showcasing the mordern world what we are capable of.Most often international bodies like UNESCO are used as rhetorics to make the readers believe what’s being presented.

4. Personality And Prowess (of PM Modi)- This is the most common narrative stating how a Great Man is leading the nation to a glorious future single handedly.
Such narratives use Modi’s past achievements to cover up for the made up and untrue achievements of the right wing, use the same achievements in contrast with the lack of achievements of then ruling party.

Messages circulated amongst those with a left leaning identity cover narratives calling out imagined flaws and corruptions in the Modi and modi led govt without providing any hard evidence.

Distortion of history is a tactic common to both the wings for spreading propaganda.

Decoding what’s fake.

Though decoding what’s fake from the sheer volume of digital deluge is tough it isn’t impossible :

  1. Identify fake websites or forwards: Fake websites can easily be identified on the basis that most of the articles on the website state an unidentified source. In most cases the source is not mentioned.
    Further fake forwards and websites use excessive exaggeration and imagination in their language. Its possible that a non mainstream news website may have covered a news before the mainstream media but it’s highly likely the mainstream media had already covered the issue and the website is either giving a exaggerated version of the issue or the incident didn’t happen at all. In such a case before forwarding the news one must wait and hold back before a confirmation of occurrence of such an event is broadcast on mainstream media platforms.Fake forwards:
    Fake forwards usually use rhetorics like ‘Bikau media issedikhayeginhi’ in order to induce in you a doubt about the mainstream media and discredit it.Such forwards use this ploy to flourish.
    Further the forwards feel more intimate and personal as the sender is a person you relate with and hence don’t bother evaluating the news before forwarding it.
  2. Fake images and videos: If one doubts whether a forwarded image of a riot is fake or real one can use google reverse image search engine for the same. Because fake images are usually doctored and had already been used in various contexts. If you find a particular image used in multiple places after the image search in various contexts the forward is definitely a fake one.
    Fake video debugging involves the same process. Individual video frames can be checked of the various contexts it has been used in ,the same way it’s done for images.Conclusion :

It is very important for each one of us to doubt what is presented to us not only in the aspects of fake news but in general sense.Believe what your notions say not what they say.Having a critical eye for anything we see or read in this time of propaganda and fake news is a must to decode what’s real and what’s reel.

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