News & Article

FAKE NEWS: Putting the World at Sixes and Sevens

by Dr. Pallab Lima

Fake news has existed since the dawn of the printing press but in the age of internet and social media, it has found application of brobdingnagian proportions. Manipulation of algorithms of social media and search engines to reach large audiences and mislead news consumers is a global trend now, causing higgledy-piggledy in the minds of masses. It is leading to the poisonous atmosphere on the web and causing riots and lynching’s on the road. In the age of internet, WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter it is a serious problem as rumours, morphed images, click-baits, motivated stories, unverified information, planted stories for various interests spread easily among internet users.

In the present era, the notion of “fake news” has gained substantial relevance. With the present ‘business’ and ‘financial’ model, media is generating ever increasing and more than required louder content. With such unnecessary content into plate, media lost the control as to what they are disseminating. Today media seems to be a tool that allow political vendetta (of populist political party) to flourish. They are becoming a storehouse of fake news in the hand of political parties that has hostile agenda. They release news that support the ideology of these political parties without giving much ado to the factual reality of such news.

Due to continuous broadcast of fake news with revenue generating interest, now general public started presuming that media has no longer control over what they are disseminating. Threats, attacks and government oppression of media to follow their ideology, oppression of real news are creating a threat to the freedom of media. If media want to regain the trust of general public, as public trust has a real importance in the practice of journalism and to democracy in general, they are required to do their duty with sacrosanct intention. They are required to practice on both sides of the conflict, not as side taker but as observers.

The Digital Era removed barriers to publication and this is possible due to the shift of the tools of production to the people formerly known as the audience, who became co-producers, of content. This can be understood in terms of social media. In social media platforms it is the audience who is holding the front position for the discovery and distribution of the content. The mainstream media is also collaborating with these “co-producers” in the production of news, though it offers many benefits but destabilizes the legacy news media of gate-keeping power and impact on verification standards.

Technology can all too easily weaponize false speech for maximum believability and impact. This is because Artificial intelligence can increase the efficiency and effectiveness of distributed content through targeting and automation. A flood of targeted emotional manipulation, Facebook dark posts which are fake news can stealthily influence public opinion and behaviour. Through platforms like Facebook this fake news reach massive numbers of people, it may be that the fake or ideologically slanted news they disseminate may have the greatest effects on less politically astute or ideologically partisan consumers. These realities create ideal conditions for selective exposure and confirmation bias.

Moreover, what happens on the Internet also influences mainstream media coverage. This means that if any fake news particularly has spread virally online can also be further amplified by recirculation through trusted media non-social media sources. This can happen when the information is not debunked through the press’s fact checking systems. When the press environment itself is fragmented and ideologically polarized, and when many people think that the mainstream media intentionally lies or misleads, then any such errors on the part of any given press outlet will be characterized not as simple error, but as evidence of ideologically motivated strategic lying.

The difficulty of distinguishing between true and false information on social media is likely to be further exacerbated by recent technological developments. Significant strides have been made in technology that would allow the generation and proliferation of increasingly seamless and practically undetectable fabricated events and statements.

Recently, in India, amid the lockdown, the centre in a PIL, sought a direction from the Supreme Court that, “no electronic / print media / web portal or social media shall print / publish or telecast anything without first ascertaining the true factual position from the separate mechanism provided by the central government”. The direction has been sought on the basis that, “Any deliberate or unintended fake or inaccurate reporting either in electronic, print or social media and, particularly, in web portals has a serious and inevitable potential of causing panic in large sections of the society”. Considering the very nature of this infectious disease which the world is struggling with, any panic reaction by any section of the society based on such reporting would not only be harmful for such section but harmful for the entire nation.

A lot fake news about corona virus is spreading some of them are – a fake voice note was created attributed to Dr, Devi Shetty, which advised against getting testing for corona virus. Another such news which claimed gaumutra (Cow urine) being the cure for corona virus. To overcome all this government has issued advisory and urged people not to spread fake news through social media platforms amidst the time of this pandemic in contrast use the social media to spread awareness among people.

Freedom of press is the fundamental to every democracy. It protects the rights of individual to publish and broadcast the information that are of public interest. For any democracy to succeed and keep the general public informed, free flow of information is utmost important. However, problem arises to this right to press when they started overstepping the boundary. When they started showing fake news just to uproar dissent amongst the general public. This calls for amendments in the guidelines for journalists’ accreditation to deal the era of fake news. Due to shift in cultural sources of information, moving from traditional legacy media to the emergent user-generated content, a variety of miscommunications have occurred. Central government can bring forth legislations to curb the chaos that a fake news can cause. By stating legislation, I do not intend to make media censored, rather mend media houses so that they would not create an uproar among the public.

(The writer of this article, Dr. Pallab Lima is serving as the State General Secretary (Minority Cell) of Biju Janata Dal (BJD). The aforementioned views expressed are personal in nature).

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