To believe or not to believe! That is the Question!
Just want to start off with a petty incident that happened last week. Received a message on WhatsApp from someone stating that one ‘International Brand’ was providing a free make up set to everyone on the occasion of celebrating its 80th Birthday. Impulsive and super excited as many of us are to get a ‘free gift’ I clicked on the link, as it was sent by a trusted friend. This is easy! ( or so I thought.) All I had to do was share the link with ten friends of mine on WhatsApp and receive the gift. I did just that.
The message on the link then read “Congratulations! To claim your gift, please click on the link below and type in your e-mail id. Five seconds later all I could see on my mobile screen was a skimpily clad woman asking me to watch her video. I almost had a panic attack wondering as to the “ten friends and family” I had shared the link with. The next few minutes went in frantically sending them all apology messages stating that the “link” didn’t work. Some of them had already tried it and the same woman had greeted them. We had a good laugh about it, because laughing over it was all that we could do.
But it got me thinking about this whole trend of today where “FAKE NEWS” in every form seems to be taking over our social networking sites and the media that we are all so dependent on.
“Fake News” has been named Collins Dictionary’s word of the year, as its use increased 365 percent in 2017 which only goes to show how much this word has crept into the lives of people all over the World.
Fake news is widening social rifts in India. The practice of using social media platforms like Facebook and Whatsapp to disseminate false information is ushering in a dangerous trend. These also create rifts between various communities, castes and religions and at times can be very hazardous too.
A few months ago, rumours about child abductors in a village triggered several lynching and the deaths of seven people.
A couple of weeks ago what went viral was the news that taking a call from a certain nine-digit number would cause our phone to explode. In reality, the nine-digit number didn’t exist and there was no evidence to show that a phone can explode by simply receiving a call on it from a particular number.
Another example of fake news that spread like wildfire was at the time of demonetization that carried stories on how the new 2000 rupee notes had a GPS clip embedded in them. Later it was verified by the RBI that this was not true.
Barrack Obama, the former President of the United States of America stated in a recent Conference in Germany, that if people are not serious about facts and what’s true and what’s not, if we can’t discriminate between serious arguments and propaganda, then we have problems. And we panic more about such fake news drifting around as social media makes both the message and how it moves very visible. The problem today is that it becomes hard to distinguish fake from fact. Online news is harder to distinguish.
• How often do we fact-check a story before responding to it and what are the ways to handle fake news?
• There needs to be greater cyber vigilance and monitoring but i is a herculean task as India 160 million of Whatsapp’s one billion-plus monthly active users, 148 million Facebook users and over 22 million Twitter accounts.
• It is also said that we the news consumers tend to not read or watch anything that we do not agree with, and accept everything that goes with our beliefs at face value.
• Solid technological tools need to be developed to call the bluff. Every fake story has tell-tale signs and News outlets must verify before publishing such news to the public domain.
• Research online reveals that Tineye – a dedicated reverse image search engine checks if images have been manipulated.AltNews.in and SMHoaxSlayer the two websites in India that have emerged recently, where fact checkers are trying to segregate the real news from the fake news.
So the next time we receive something, be it a piece of news or a ‘Free Gift’ it’s better to check and recheck to avoid embarrassments and dangers of all kind. (And Oh! Please check if the pointers above are all real or Fake!!! 🙂
Rachitha Poornima Cabral
Department of English
School of Social Work, Roshni Nilaya