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FAKE NEWS- A DISASTER IN THE MAKING

By BILAL AHMAD NAIK

 

We are all islands shouting lies to each other across seas of misunderstandings


                                                                                                                   —Rudyard Kipling,

Recently WhatsApp, the Facebook owned company, said in India it will test limiting the ability of users to forward messages and will also experiment with a lower limit of five chats at once. The current limit is 250. This comes in the backdrop of widely felt concerns regarding the increasing incidents of lynching cases that are sparked by the dissemination of false information. Fake news mania has spread like an epidemic and those concerned with its repercussions are in a perplexing situation. There doesn’t seem a way out in sight while the disaster has taken toll of various lives. While fake news is blamed for influencing elections and other such things in Europe and America; In India it has turned out to be a brutal killer. Since May 2018, around two dozen people have been killed due to lynching that was fostered by fake news and many more have been seriously injured. Its victims are not limited to rural areas and poor and illiterate people.

Recently an engineer of Google lost his life to a mob of people who mistook him as a child abductor in Karnataka. In June 2018, Department of information and cultural affairs, Government of Tripura taking a strong note of the lynching cases due to misinformation spread through social media hired Sukanta Chakrabarty to acquaint the netizens to identify fake news being spread through social media. This 33 year old man tried a lot to teach the people to not to believe in everything they receive through apps like WhatsApp. He travelled from village to village and used loudspeaker to teach the people the ways to identify fake news and to abstain from taking law in their own hands. But he could not save himself from the menace he was trying to keep people away from. While on the same job in a village called Kalachera, a mob of people murdered him with stones and sticks. While the incidents of mob lynching over fallacies of beef, cow killings and other such things were already there from past few years in India, social media has added fuel to the fire and aggravated the problem by providing easy means to spread the false information.

Now the dissemination of misinformation is just a click away. You receive a fabricated story, fake news, a misguided piece of information; a few clicks, and in a matter of seconds it reaches to the millions of people; thanks to the fast communication technology. With increasing international pressure and extensive media coverage of the mob killings fostered by fake news, Government of India approached WhatsApp authorities to control the spread of false information. It is just running away from the responsibilities because it is primarily the responsibility of the government to control the situation that has turned out to be a disaster. It is pertinent to mention here that some political parties might be using these platforms to draw the gullible citizens towards their parties by spreading propaganda. So, it’ll be foolish to expect much from them.

The front page of a newspaper with the headline “Fake News” which illustrates the current phenomena. Front section of newspaper is on top of loosely stacked remainder of newspaper. All visible text is authored by the photographer. Photographed in a studio setting on a white background with a slight wide angle lens.

On the other hand, WhatsApp by coming out with the policy of restricting the number of persons to which a message can be forwarded has responded positively. It merits a mention that it is not the first measure that WhatsApp has taken to restrict the spread of false information. Earlier it came out with a feature by which a new label was added to identify the forwarded messages. It enables a user to differentiate between a normal message composed by the sender and a forwarded one. This gives a user ease in identifying rumors. WhatsApp has already rolled out a feature by which group admins can restrict other members from posting in the groups. It has emerged as the most apt tactic to curb this nuisance because WhatsApp groups provide easy means to the miscreants as their false information gets wide publicity through them. WhatsApp is trying its level best to control the spread of false information and has already invited suggestions from skilled professionals to minimize the problem.

But we as responsible citizens should not watch this mayhem as mere spectators. It is high time that we understand the seriousness of this predicament and devise plans to at least control the spread of false information. First of all we need to understand that WhatsApp is not a news source. It’s not an online news portal. It’s just a messaging app, a private messenger and it should be used for that very purpose. Many amongst us throw everything we see, realize, go through and experience into WhatsApp groups. Some people seem to be in a race to post every new development about anything happening in their surroundings to WhatsApp groups. In this race of becoming the first to post, the information gets passed without fact checking and editing. It is a fact that false information travels faster than the real one. So, once you get a message from multiple persons through WhatsApp or any other messenger, make sure that you check the source of the news. Not everything that is widely spread is true. Further if such a message is shocking and it frightens you or leaves you in utter surprise, there are maximum chances that the news could be fake. Sensational audios and videos mostly prove bogus. Never ever forward such messages in a hurry. There are maximum chances that after 15-30 minutes, you’ll get to know the credibility of the news. The world will not stop if you don’t post that message instantly.  Before you forward a message think twice. Check its authenticity. Think whether it’ll serve any purpose. Think if it might unnecessarily annoy anyone. The time you are reading this, a fake news might be doing rounds on social media. Think what you can do to stop that. Don’t fall prey to rumor mongers. Try to control it as it might save an innocent person from being lynched. Every individual effort matters as Allama Iqbal says-

Afrad k Hathoon Mai Hai Aqwaam Ki Taqdeer

            Har Fard Hai Millat Kai Muqaddar Ka Sitara

 

(The author teaches at Government Middle school Nagnad, Kulgam and can be reached at: [email protected])