Fake news messages centreing on the ideas of nationalism and nation-building are shared widely in the India without concrete attempts at fact-checking, according to a study done by BBC. The report used multiple methods to understand the circulation of fake news, including the analysis of 16,000 Twitter profiles and 3,200 Facebook pages, in-depth interviews and the analysis of WhatsApp messages shared by 40 respondents.
The spread and rise in the credence of Hindu nationalistic identities has made many Indians feel they have a patriotic duty towards forwarding such information which, in turn, validates their belief systems. Social media analysis in the research study suggested that right-wing networks are much more organised than the ones on the left, pushing nationalistic fake stories further.
Distrust of mainstream news outlets pushed people to spread information from alternative sources and through alternative mediums such as memes, images, and stories with minimal text, without attempting to verify it, in the belief that they were helping to spread the real story. This is because of the deluge of information available online—people are preferring that which is easy to grasp and understand.
People looked to the number of comments on a Facebook post, the kinds of images on the posts, or the sender, for verification of the veracity of stories, with people assuming WhatsApp messages from family and friends could be trusted and sent on without checking.
Widespread sharing of false rumours on WhatsApp has led to a wave of violence in India and, according to a separate BBC analysis, at least 32 people have been killed in the past year in such incidents. The onus for changing this cannot lie on just the technology companies. As the BBC report puts it, the pro-BJP amplifiers of fake news are very closely interconnected—unlike the anti-BJP amplifiers—and “the @narendramodi Twitter handle follows multiple pro-BJP amplifiers”.