Disinformation, or “fake news”, is a malaise that has been worsened by the infodemic of the social media age.
In the last few years, it has been used as an effective weapon to polarise communities and upset democratic processes.
Even if the fake news is not an electoral agenda, it is in the service of the political. So, we should not lose sight by focusing disproportionately on individual fake news items instead of the larger narrative.
Recent in news:
- Companies like Facebook and YouTube are pressurized to proactively remove fake news from their platforms and rework their algorithms to ensure that such content does not gain prominence.
- The newly introduced limit on forwarding message on WhatsApp is one more example of this discourse, where accountability to address fake news is dumped on to the technology platforms.
- The Supreme Court has recently asked the Centre to explain its “mechanism” against fake news and bigotry on air, and to create one if it did not already exist.
- The Court said it was “disappointed” with the contents of the latest government affidavit, filed by Information and Broadcasting Secretary, in the Tablighi Jamaat case.
- The case is based on petitions against the communal colour given by certain sections of the electronic media to the holding of a Tablighi Jamaat event in the National Capital during the lockdown.
- The Jamiat petitions has sought a direction from the court to the Ministry to identify and take strict action against sections of the media that communalised the Tablighi incident.
What is the state of disinformation as we have entered a new year?
- In the Indian context, disinformation is not evolving in quality but in quantity.
- The nature of disinformation was the same as it is today primarily old videos and images used to represent something in the present, especially if they have an element of violence or are highly politicised.
- We saw massive spikes of disinformation on the anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act protests, elections, the Delhi riots of 2020, and the pandemic.
- In all of these issues, the kind of disinformation which was perpetrated was pretty simple, and not that difficult to debunk.
- It’s just the organised manner in which it was produced every single day multiple false claims using photos, images and text.
- In fact, it is just going to keep increasing because political parties have found out that if you put out organised disinformation, then any political narrative can be controlled.
- At the same time, even though India has a federal structure, the parties which have been targeted are not doing anything about it.
- They are not introducing any educational reform so that people can be more aware.
- So, what we are going to see is just a lot more disinformation that is rudimentary, but with a lot of people consuming it day in and day out, and forming their political opinion.
Role of media in fake news dispersal:
Controlling fake news is a preoccupation of the technology platforms, the political class, the news media, and an increasing tribe of citizens concerned about democracy being hijacked.
The basic dynamics of disinformation is same in many countries. It’s very visible in India, but we also see similar patterns in the U.S. and Brazil and a number of other countries.
While the tactics, forms, and communities involved in creating and disseminating disinformation evolve over time, by now we have a very clear sense of what the basic dynamics are.
Way Forward: Fight ‘fake news’: BRICS Media Forum:
The Fifth BRICS Media Forum was held virtually recently.
China’s Xinhua news agency came up with the idea of a BRICS Media Forum in 2015 to promote media cooperation.
The forum aims to:
- Establish an efficient coordination mechanism among BRICS media.
- Advance innovation-driven media development.
- Gather stronger momentum for the development of BRICS countries through exchange and pragmatic cooperation under the mechanism.
The BRICS Media Forum can make a real difference in the fight against motivated and harmful disinformation by:
Promoting and strengthening relevant media exchanges, workshops, training of journalists, and interactions with technology companies that are willing to work with us to contain and end the menace.
Rigorous fact-checking and investigation by well-trained teams of journalists and the new type of specialised fact-checking organisations can be supplemented by technological solutions, with the deployment of technologies like AI, in the fight against disinformation, especially large-scale online harms.
Educating the end users to be more precise about the news by informing them of verification tools so that they can verify the accuracy of a news item before sharing it.
Another proposal by the government, concerns tracking the ‘source’ of fake news, primarily to address the issue at its root. But this may cause serious issues concerning invasion of privacy and free speech.
Fake news has existed since the dawn of the printing press but in the age of the internet and social media, it has found a tremendous application.
Manipulation of algorithms of social media and search engines is a global trend now.
Misinformation and disinformation spread in the media is becoming a serious social challenge. It is leading to the poisonous atmosphere on the web and causing riots and lynching on the road.
Countering content manipulation and fake news to restore faith in social media without undermining internet and media freedom will require public education, strengthening of regulations and effort of tech companies to make suitable algorithms for news curation.