Every time we are on the internet, we are bombarded with a wide array of news articles and information that have their own agenda. We share this information with just one click and somehow unknowingly become a part of the bigger narrative that some websites or groups are trying to weave. Welcome to the world of fake news! Where information is the weapon and we all are the targets. Today, when a large majority of the population has access to the internet, distilling the right information, has become a challenging task. Anybody with an internet connection can put their views forward or just flood the algorithm with a particular type of information.
Sensationalizing of information has always sold. Tweaking news headlines to make it sound like ‘Breaking News’ or adding controversial titles for click baits is not exactly new. The biggest example of fake news and sensationalism in recent times have been during demonetization when credible news channels showed how the new notes contain GPS chips and during Covid time when national news channels backed unverified ‘solutions’ and ways to treat corona.
Partho Dasgupta Former CEO of BARC states “The term ‘Whats App University’ has made it to our lingo as a sarcastic term to label any information that seems ludicrous, baseless, and unverified. Many riots and fights among religious groups have been credited to the news from ‘Whats App University’. Today every person needs to be digitally literate and should know how to spot fake news”. Digital illiteracy and preconceived biases have led to many deaths in the recent past.
Social media is probably the one place where most of the fake news comes from. Social media bots make fake accounts and show attractive content that is likely to be followed by most of the population. These account names are then changed to peddle their propaganda. Some of these accounts have huge following and it is very easy for them to put out unverified
information that may spark controversy or disharmony.
“Fake news has become the new pandemic; with technology like deep fake, it is going to be very difficult for a common man sitting in a village to differentiate between which video is real and which is fake” Informs Partho Dasgupta BARC ’s ex CEO. Deep fake is an AI-based technology wherein a person can digitally alter their face or body to make it look like someone else. Recently Indian politicians have used deep fake technology to appeal to voters in different parts of the country. However, this trend is more worrisome than impressive. This technology is in the nascent stages and is currently being used in different apps for recreational uses where faces of celebrities can be superimposed to make it look like them. World Intellectual Property Organization (“WIPO”) states that deep fakes may cause serious violations of human rights, personal data protection rights, right to privacy, etc. even though different governments around the world have recognized the threat that deep fakes pose, a lot of changes need to be made in technology to ensure safety.
How do we as an audience and the ‘targets’ of these information attacks save ourselves from fake news? Well we can follow some of the tips mentioned below to ensure that:
- Critical Thinking: most false news is spread to evoke a sense of shock or fear. It is important to keep your senses in place instead of reacting emotionally and ask valid questions like what is the purpose of this story? Am I getting too emotional reading this? Is this news piece trying to direct me to another website? Most of the times, by simply checking the dates on these articles one can tell whether they are recent or an old post is being circulated.
- Always check the source: always keep an eye on the web address. Suspicious- looking address like “.infonet” and “.offer,” rather than “.com” may be fake. Some fake websites just alter the names of genuine websites to spread fake information. One must check the publication credentials to ensure the source is legitimate.
- Examine the content: a genuine story will have facts and data and quotes from credible sources. If all this is missing just a search of a keyword from the news will show you if this news is being reported elsewhere also.