Just as I started writing this piece, a friend posted a video of a supposed air crash on our WhatsApp group. He had shared a video and a note as if it was something he vouched for, although even he would have realised at second glance that it had to be false. But these days we don’t really care about what we share. Gone are the days when our inbox would be flooded with jokes and GIFs that would bring the server down every now and then. Now, it is all about getting likes and shares on anything you post, so the idea is to create stuff that you know will get shared. Those who have read Irving Wallace’s Almighty will get a better idea of what I am implying. As almost everyone with a smartphone claims to be a journalist, or a content creator, it has become a free for all when it comes to news and information. While traditional media would check and recheck facts, hold stories till a version could be attained, now all editorial judgement is limited to hitting publish or share. What most us don’t realise is that, in this rat race to get more emojis on our posts, we are unwittingly helping promote certain agendas, often extending the reach of the posts, despite something, somewhere telling us that it can’t really be right.
It is time we started thinking about the consequences of our actions online. That funny political meme that just came in on one of your WhatsApp groups might be unwittingly helping bring down a government or prop up an unworthy candidate. After all, over the past year or so, the impact of our virtual choices has started making themselves felt in our real lives. The risk is not confined to the episodes of Black Mirror, it is very much here … in every click you make. That’s why maybe you should read my dos and don’ts for internet readers in India.
-Play the editor. Don’t leave yourself at the mercy of one source, read different viewpoints and voices.
-Of course, you love to read about Salman Khan, but read some boring, but good, journalism too. If you read less of the good stuff, publishers will start investing less in it. Remember, Salman won’t come to your rescue when the world you are used to starts to crumble, but good journalism might.
-Even if you are pretty sure of the source, don’t trust it blindly. Validate/verify it with another source that you believe. Yes, times are such.
-Don’t become a slave of the algorithm, make it your slave. If you keep reading the same stuff, the algorithm will keep pushing more of it. So, make sure you follow and read sources that you might not really like. Doing so will ensure your timeline is not skewed in favour of a person, an ideology or party. The balance that newsrooms used to strive for is something you the reader will now have to take charge of.
-Anybody can post on WhatsApp and anything can go viral, so don’t give it more credibility than you would a wall poster on a dusty street. Use good sources to verify that outlandish claim you just read on a messaging platform. Forward only if you are convinced about its veracity.
-Don’t trust the videos either. Anything that can be faked, will be. People just have so much time or are paid to fake it. From CCTV to archival footage, everything has the potential to go viral with a little bit of tweaking. You have the power to discern, don’t surrender it.
-Do your own research if you are in doubt. But do go deeper than Wikipedia or wiki anything, those can be changed—and often are—to suit a certain agenda or narrative.
-Internet is all about search and find, but don’t fall for content that is made to be found. Ask yourself, is this the best I can get? It often won’t be.
-Trolls don’t matter. The best way to put them down is by not responding to their 140-character grammar-challenged vitriol. Nothing frustrates them more than a target who refuses to engage. That said, do indulge yourself by slaying a troll or two once in awhile.
-Trust no one, no single source. Remember, the reader is no longer the king, the traffic is. So more of what you are reading will be created instead of what you should be reading. The internet will only be as good as you are.