Fake News

Fake news is becoming a huge menace in promoting more biases, divisions, hatred and violence in society. New Zealand attacks, manipulation of elections, lynching are some examples of negative impacts.

A recent Microsoft survey, covering 22 countries shows that as many as 64% of Indians surveyed have encountered fake news as against the global average of 57%.

What is Fake News?

It may be defined as “Any misinformation or disinformation deliberately disseminated on a large scale that has the potential to threaten the life or national security or an election outcome.”

Fake news exists within the larger context of misinformation and disinformation.

  • Misinformation is false or inaccurate information that is mistakenly or inadvertently created or spread where the intent is not to deceive.
  • Disinformation is false information that is deliberately created and spread to influence public opinion or obscure the truth.
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Further, the advent of fake news is not new or recent, only its potential to reach people has amplified due to online platforms and applications that are free. Users creating hate content and sharing it can be booked under relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). But the sheer expanse of the Internet and the anonymity it grants makes it difficult to track down people.

Unlike mainstream media that falls under comprehensive regulation, online platforms have scope for wrongdoing due to the lack of binding rules, and the ability to keep owners and editors private like in the case of fake news sites. In the absence of such crucial information, there is no understanding of the liability and the credibility of the information that is being hosted on their respective sites. This is the main strength of the creators of fake news, the ability to remain anonymous in the guise of a media outlet.

Fake news is a threat to democracy in a way more perverse than most people appreciate. In these times of easy access to the ability to crunch large amounts of data, unstructured and in real time, it is possible for political parties or, more realistically, specialist troops employed by them, to profile individual voters and flood them with news, fake and real, that would accentuate perceived favourable political propensities or neutralise perceived hostile inclinations.

Despite several attempts at tweaking laws and regulations to fight the evil of fake news, such regulation proved ineffective. So far, no Indian statute or regulatory guidelines has defined fake news or has laid down criteria for defining fake news. Any amendment in the existing legal framework should begin with defining this term.

How to Combat?

Fixing Responsibilitya.    Lack of uniform guidelines, regulation and policy regarding such fabricated content needs to be addressed urgently.
b.   Government should take steps to combat use of communication networks to spread rumours misinformation such as through WhatsApp, rather than shift responsibility to communication networks, wherein accountability should be fixed with police and public officials for maintaining law and order.
c.    Regulation should avoid emphasizing censorship of means of fake news such as communication networks but emphasize awareness towards fake news and regulating creators of fake news and its after-effects.
Onus of Social Media platformsRecently, Google, FB and WhatsApp raise stakes to tackle ‘fake menace.’
1. The first action was by WhatsApp when it released advertisements in Indian newspapers about identifying fake news.
2. WhatsApp has even added a ‘forwarded’ sign that comes with a message that is not original.
► Google
1. Google rolled out a train-the-trainer program with its Google News Initiative India Training Network. The program aims to train working journalists to create in-house experts who can help identify fake news. The trainers are expected to train journalists in digital tools like·    advanced search, reverse image search and other tools where even videos can be subjected to reverse image search to debunk fake news.
2. Google is also funding 87 outlets through its Google News Initiative (GNI) YouTube innovation funding. The funding aims to help news outlets in 23 countries across the world in exploring live and fact-checking formats. In Hyderabad, Factly, a firm that has tried to push data driven information, is now collaborating with Google.
► Facebook
Facebook has taken a community route hosting a workshop on Community Leadership Circles. Aims to build a community of admins in cities who can develop policies and control the content that is shared in the groups. They will be part of a network who can mentor and groom admins.
Promotion of Fact Checking1. Numerous fact-checking websites such as Alt News have sprung up and a few of them have even partnered with big players like Google and Facebook to provide factual accuracy.
2. The fact checking organization Boom Live is available on WhatsApp in India.
Onus of consumersa.   Due diligence is required on part of the users as actual consumers and targets of fake information and online content to contain the spread of fake news.
b.  Human judgment and wisdom therefore are critical to solving the spread and reactionary activities of Fake news.
c.   Before sharing dubious content, users can exercise judgement to question the source and its credibility, or to check the credentials of the individual it has come from.
Use of Artificial Intelligencea.   Form a database of specific accounts, sources, geographical locations or IP addresses which are a known source of fake news and linked to A.I. detection mechanism.
b.  Run a content cross-check for the news story against a dynamic database of stories which demarcates legit and fake stories.
c.   Run an evaluation for the headline text and the content of the post, looking for consistency between both or sift through similar articles over other news media platforms for fact checking.
d. Spot manipulated or doctored images and videos, which can further alert the users of the dubious content.
Crowd Sourcinga.   Human networks through crowdsourcing can be conducted to combat fake news. It would be like the concept of Wikipedia where a network of volunteers keeps the information updated.
b. A collective effort of individuals, governments, social media and content platforms with the additional use of technology solutions, needs to be integrated with social causes and awareness among the masses to combat the influence and spread of fake news.

The current response to fake news primarily revolves around three prongs — rebuttal, removal of the fake news item and educating the public. While these are necessary measures, it is not apparent that they are sufficient in themselves to address the larger ‘political’ problem posed by fake news.

Online Counselling
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