As per a report, at least 31 people have lost their lives between 2017-18. With more than a billion active mobile phone users, proliferation of smartphones and cheap data packages, the problem is only getting worst as rumours spread at a faster speed. People are already dying. The question here is, what worst can we expect?
With deaths and murders involved, we are getting pretty serious and taking all the measures possible to curb fake news. (Tip: Read our article on How To Spot Fake News)
Step 1: Defining fake news
The word ‘Fake News’ started popping up in conversations after it became the ‘Word of the Year’ in 2017, when Trump began shouting out that word and the news shows debates started flashing the photoshopped Whatsapp forwards. Although fake news always existed, the word gained popularity in India only a few years back. Owing to it’s sudden spread in India, fake news was like a broad umbrella with many meanings and concepts attached to it. According to Pankaj Jain, an active fake news slayer, fake news can be a bit of misleading term. It can mean many things- a mistake, an intentional twisting a news story, fabricating information, news sowing confusion etc.
Thus in this confused environment, if we want to discourage and condemn the spread of misinformation, we first need to define it. Responding to this need, the Press Council of India in 2018 published a definition of fake news. The chairman of PCI, Justice Chandramauli Kumar Prasad, titled as “Response of Chairman on Fake News” which outlined the definition of fake news.
Along with the definition, the report also stated that accreditation of journalists could also be suspended in they are found disseminating fake news, but only in gross cases of fake news.
Step 2: Regulating the social media giants
If you’re an active Whatsapp user you might have noticed a new feature while using the app. If you receive a forwarded message, it is labeled as ‘Forwarded’. This indicates the message has been forwarded to someone from another user and not composed by the sender. Well, this move comes after immense pressure from the Indian government to the messaging app to take immediate action to curb fake news. In July 2018, the Indian Government warned Whatsapp to take immediate and urgent action to stop the spread of “irresponsible and explosive messages filled with rumours and provocation”
The app is also working on a Suspicious Link Detention feature to curb the spread of spam messages, which they are currently testing on their beta version of the app. The feature will automatically detect and identify suspicious links which will redirect the users to fake news websites. And accordingly, will alert the user with a marked red label.
As Whatsapp groups are where the major problem lies, the app is giving more control to the group admins with the Whatsapp ‘Send Message’ feature. So now, the group admin can decide whether all the participants or only the admin can send messages on the group. This is essentially useful for large groups which are mainly fr broadcasting information. This reduces the chances of circulation of fake news as only those who can be replied upon will be given the control to send messages. The app also announced a grant of $50,000 for social scientists and research groups to propose projects to understand the fake news problem.
Step 3: Involving those whom we trust
Sure, the government does it’s bit by issuing warning, notifications and public announcements. But, do we actually pay close attention to those? Umm…not really! But, if your dad or your office colleague brings it up in a discussion you’ll probably think about it. Thankfully, the UP Police understood this psychology which they are using to curb fake news. Uttar Pradesh has been in the headlines for mob lynching and violence taking place over fake news and messages. To minimize these, the UP Police will be deploying ‘Digital Armies’ or volunteers who will keep a strict check on inflammatory posts and rumor-mongers. All the 1469 police stations in the state will shortlist 250 people from different walks of life including teachers, retired servicemen, retired army/policemen, student leaders, lawyers etc. Accordingly, each police station will have a Whatsapp group with 250 members. So if we multiply 250 into 1469, the state will have approximately 3,67,00 digital volunteers, helping curb fake news. Their role would be to inform the police about any incident or people who are spreading fake news and misinformation on social media.
Step 4: Forming a tech army
While the government is doing its bit to curb fake news, many other professionals have joined in for good. 22-year-old Lyric Jain, who is the founder of a UK based startup called Logically, has developed a machine learning algorithm which can examine fact from fiction. Here’s how it works. After sifting through all the top and biggest news stories, it highlights the features that make them fake. Like the headline, tone of the story, bias, inaccurate statistics etc.
Remember the news headlines which read the 2,000 rupee note being embedded with a ‘nano GPS chip’? Well, that was a fake news story which was first brought to light by Pankaj Jain, the founder of verification site SM Hoax Slayer. He began small by responding to messages to tell people that the message they are passing were not true and then he decided to take his cause further. On average he started getting over 150 messages from people every day, enquiring about the news content they receive on the mobile messaging service WhatsApp. Till date, he has debunked 1,300 fake forwards on Whatsapp. Likewise, a team of computer science experts from IIT, Delhi are developing an app which will be able to flag the fake news messages. The app will be able to colour code the messages – green for legit content and red for fake news.
Step 5: Sensitising the youth
Being a netizen, we’re already a part of the fake news menace and have no choice but to deal with it’s implications. However, we can hope to secure the entire generation ahead by sensitising them about fake news right from their education level.
The district of Kunnur in Kerala witnessed a plethora of fake news incidents. From hyping the entire Nipah virus outbreak to claiming vaccination as harmful, which actually deterred many parents from getting their children vaccinated. That’s when an IAS officer from that district, Mir Mohammed Ali started an initiative called Satyameva Jayate. Under this initiative, training will be given to high school students to identify fake news, inculcate the need to question the authenticity of information they receive, understand the psychology behind people sharing information, introduce them to concepts like filter bubble and click bait. He started by training 150 teachers who will pass on the training to the students. They were also urged to Google and look up for authentic news sources. He further states that he wants the students to teach their parents as well, who are the ones easily gullible and forward messages without verification. This is happening around the world, where the educators are adopting a curriculum which teaches kids to distinguish facts from fiction. The curriculum was designed by an NGO called New Literacy Project which includes 12 lessons on fake news.
Sure, we are doing our bit to curb this menace, but there is a lot more India can learn from countries around the world. For instance, Malaysia has a law against fake news which makes it punishable and imposes a fine upto $1, 23,000 for the same. Germany fines social media networks if they fail to remove hateful posting and fake news. While France’s media legislation will soon see a complete overhaul in their media legislation. Compared to these stringent measures, we clearly need to up our game.