At a time when a fake news can travel the world literally at the click of a button, India needs better media literacy and awareness on the phenomena.
At a time when a fake news can travel the world literally at the click of a button, India needs better media literacy and awareness on the phenomena. A panel of experts at The Indian Express Thinc on Wednesday discussed the need for a dedicated “army” of people who could bust fake news, besides the traditional media stepping up to counter such rumours. The panel comprised co-founder of Altnews.in, Pratik Sinha; director general of the Indian Institute of Mass Communications, KG Suresh; managing editor of Boom, Jency Jacob; South Asia bureau chief of The Washington Post, Annie Gowen; and contributing editor of Business Standard, Vanita Kohli Khandekar.
Opening the conversation on ‘Uncovering the Truth in the time of Fake News’, Sinha said Altnews primarily fact-checks three types of stories: speeches by politicians, certain stories by the mainstream media, and those with communal messages involving Hindu-Muslim binaries. Such stories, he said, go viral depending on how “provocative” their nature was. But all such stories do feed into the “majoritarian politics that we have in the country today,” he said. He said while mobile penetration had brought a larger number of sources of information to an increasing number of people, especially in rural areas, they have not been “given a single tool” to check if the information is “true or not.” This, he said, adds to the problem.
Pointing out the increasing “polarisation of media”, Suresh said the rise of propaganda and counter-propaganda is also compounding fake news. He said the problem is not just outside the industry, but even within. Journalists “have done away with objectivity, accuracy, field work and cross-checking of facts”. “We are not giving news the time it requires.” Stressing that education and awareness were the “keys” in handling the problem, Suresh said: “We need to go down to the school level, to the college level…in educating younger people about how to identify fake news.”
Boom’s Jacob agreed, and said it is “perfectly possible” to verify “every bit of news” that is put out. On how political parties use “copycat tweets,” Jacob said it took some 70-80 people to make a topic trend on social media. “And many of the people who promote such tweets are not driven by money, but ideology,” he said. Comparing the crisis of fake news in India with the West, Gowen said in the Western countries people were “digital natives” with a better understanding of the internet. So, there is more “discernment,” unlike in Asian countries, where many people are able to access the internet for the first time, she said.
Citing the example of content creators in Macedonia, who produced fake narratives during the American presidential elections, Khandekar said if fake news did not pay, the problem could be mitigated. The economy of fake news should be “demonetised,” she said. Talking about the kind of issues that came up during the American presidential elections, which have been further highlighted in the past few days over Cambridge Analytica’s role in harvesting data about millions of Facebook users, Sinha said India is not “equipped” to handle that kind of situation. Even now, he said, barely 5% of the fake news is “tackled” by fact-checking websites like his (Altnews), while 95% still pass through.