We entered the age of fake news long time ago and some intellectuals and scholars have started to call it an important branch of post truth. When did it started and when will it end, nobody has the accurate answers. There are different views about the beginning of the Post-Truth Age. Some say that it started with the invasion of Afghanistan by US on fake excuses and grounds by spreading misinformation before the invasion, some drag it to the Iraq war, while some take it to the Fatwa which was issued on Salman Rushdie by Ayatollah Khomeini on the publication of his novel Satanic Verses in 1989, and Muslims were made to go after Rushdie’s life and in return Islamophobia started in the West. Some view its roots even in the 2nd World War in which Nazi propaganda maestro Joseph Goebbels allegedly had said, “A lie told once remains a lie, but a lie told thousand times becomes truth.”
One thing is clear that we are living in the post truth society with half-baked knowledge, misinformation and the result is chaos in society and in our surroundings.
Here everything is presumed right and true, presented on screen within few flashes and images. With the coming of Whatsapp, Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms everything is taken for granted, and we believe in everything without verifying it. Be it some doctored video or photo, we take everything so seriously that we don’t hesitate in taking another person’s life, be it neighbour or a friend.
In this post truth society facts matter less and emotions are exploited to gain advantage, political, social or any other later to be exploited more, and this cycle continues unabated. Public opinion are formed on fake and untruth news and views to gain immediate access to power, be it through knowledge or political or social. The interesting part of the story is that people don’t know that they are falling victim to propaganda and fake news and all the fake things they are engulfed in.
India has attained a unique distinction of having more fake news than any other country in the world. This fake news has taken lives of many, mostly Muslims and other marginalized communities and not even spared intellectuals, writers and journalists. Mostly this fake news has increased during the BJP rule, which boasts of nationalism and has questioned and questioning every Indian’s nationalism who oppose its policies and politics of hate.
Whatsapp has become very dangerous thing in India. Its easy to use and you don’t have to stand in que to register for it or to create a group. What you need is an android phone and an internet connection which is easily available now through various mobile phone networks and many companies offer now very cheap internet packs. Internet is a good thing but with fake and hate filled Facebook pages, Whatsapp groups and Twitter, it has become very dangerous. There are thousands of Whatsapp groups now created simply for spreading fake news and to spread hatred in the society. Most of these Hate groups or pages are created by those people who don’t believe in democratic norms and with political backing of ruling party spread misinformation through these pages which subsequently leads to hatred in society and then killings. The worst victims of these hate groups have been Muslims. Hindutva affialiated groups through various social media means first spread wrong information intentionally about the beef eating or beef storing or smuggling by Muslims and within few minutes this spreads in the whole area and we see people marching to the Muslim localities and homes, burning Muslim localities and killing innocent Muslims. We have seen how Muslims have felt the brunt of this fake news, thrashed, stabbed and lynched in every part of India.
Other victims of this hate have been those Hindus who support progressive values and by some means stand against this hatred spread in society. Activists, writers and journalists, like Kalburgi, GauriLankesh, Pansare and others have fell to this hate. Ravish Kumar, a journalist is receiving constant threats for his fair and uncompromising reporting and writings. Fake Whatsapp groups have been made to spread hate against him.
Now coming to the recent events, it seems now the perpetrators and propagators of hate are feeling exhausted after threatening and killing Indian Muslims in the name of nationalism and Cow and beef and other useless stuff. The tide of hate has now been turned towards the Kashmiris, studying and doing business in various cities of India, particularly the north Indian cities. This came after the Pulwama blasts which was blamed on Pakistan. Many Kashmiris were beaten on roads and fake posts attributing to them were circulated on Facebook and Whatsapp and thus creating an atmosphere of fear for them in mainland India. Most of the Kashmiri students have left their studies midway and many businessmen have shut down their businesses and left for Kashmir. A professor was recently beaten and made to apologize publicly for the post which the Hindutva goons in the first place didn’t understand. The post was simply against war and in favour of peace.
The tussle or “Short War” between India also became the victim of this fake propaganda and misinformation. Most of the Facebook pages and Whatsapp groups uploaded cuttings of movies, Russian and American military drills and of video games to display India’s might to the opponent and wrongly claimed the damage of “Surgical Strike”. This didn’t even spared some 24/7 jingoistic TV news channels who displayed some movie and game clips for their propaganda for stoking extreme nationalistic feelings, to downplay the opponent’s military might and thus craving for war. This jingoism, war mongering and hatred towards Muslims and Kashmiris remind us of Joseph Gobbels.
Indeed times are very tough for Muslims and other minorities to live peacefully and safely in today’s India but easy to become the target of hate spread by fake news and other misinformation spread through various media platforms. The lies over the years, especially from last four years have spread enough poison in the society to get washed in weeks or in months. It will take many decades to get rid this society of the fear and hatred created in the name of fake nationalism and fake patriotism. Till then who knows where would India be standing and what will happen to its minorities and marginalized.
(The author is a research scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University New Delhi)