#FakeMat - It’s a Fake News crisis and it’s created by us

Monday, 26 October 2020


#FakeMat - It’s a Fake News crisis and it’s created by us

Chetan Bhattarai | June 20, 2018 15:37 hrs

Your forward can kill someone, it’s time you double-checked before pushing that forward button

Fake news is here to stay, so be alert as it might cost your life.

As of now most of us using WhatsApp or Facebook or any other file sharing app are aware of the spread of fake news. We are summarily inundated with fake stories in our inboxes. Most of them look like innocent forwards but sometimes, due to the sensational angle, we tend to push the forward button.  

Well, it may be injurious to someone’s health sometimes. It might even take away another innocent life or make him or her a victim of the propaganda.

Fake news has been used by people mainly to make fun of beliefs, to make money, to spread ideologies, hatred or jeopardise something good in society.

Such news is also spread by people who are bored with regular news and impulsively twist a story to gain popularity.

Keeping in view the current spread of fake news, governments from various parts of the world are trying to tighten the noose on such dubious mediums.

Fake and viral content has led to a number of deaths in India. There are also reports of loss to a person’s reputation due to such stories. Mostly, the targeted are celebrities or people of importance.

The recent killing of Abhijit Nath and Nilotpal Das in Karbi Anglong, Assam may be from one of your forwards, you can never be sure.

WhatsApp, the Nemesis

WhatsApp is the main accused in almost all cases of spreading misinformation. Talking about India, there are over 30 crore smartphone users and due to the privacy policy of WhatsApp, it is almost impossible to track who is sending what. 

#Two cases when wide-scale curiosity was seen among the masses

  • After demonetisation, the chip inside the new currency notes followed by videos, memes and images prove that the appetite for non-conventional news is unlimited. 
  • Less than 24 hours after the chip inside the currency note rumour started, Zee News, ran a 90-second report about this chip. But finally RBI debunked it. 
  • Four states were affected by WhatsApp rumours of a salt shortage. People went into panic mode and started stocking salt. A woman had to lose her life.
  • Facebook Vs WhatsApp

The social media is where fake news and hoaxes thrive. However, Facebook is much more open as compared to WhatsApp. Since it is an open platform, users can always cross-check information by contacting someone. In WhatsApp the information flow is from one to the other. It is too private in and makes a good pipeline to spread information without worrying that everyone is watching, unlike on Facebook. 

The Groups

The WhatsApp ‘group’ feature is the most lethal part in the app. WhatsApp is enjoyed by all permissible age groups and Admins of these groups have the responsibility of blocking and deleting the fake news and hoaxes.

How governments are trying to check the spread of fake news: 

Under the instructions of PM Narendra Modi, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting had to abruptly withdraw within 24 hours a press statement that said journalists found guilty of writing or broadcasting “fake news” would lose their government accreditation. 

Malaysia has passed a new law which sets out fines of up to 500,000 ringgit ($123,000) and a maximum term of up to six years in jail for spreading fake news.
Thailand: Has a cyber law and a jail term for seven years.

France: Fake news, has been illegal since 1881. Strong action by courts during election time. Media platforms may be asked to name the financers of the content and especially checks are made so that the messages are not influenced by foreigners. Also may be asked to divulge necessary information about the paymasters.

Singapore: Parliamentary Committee is preparing measures to counter “deliberate online falsehoods.”

Philippines: A legislation with jail term of up to 20 years to punish offenders of fake news.

Europe Union plans to crack down on social media companies accused of spreading fake news. 

Steps taken by Facebook, Google to prevent/stop fake news

Facebook has also been singed by false news accounts. Much to his chagrin, Mark Zuckerberg had denied and claimed that 99% of the content in Facebook was authentic and Facebook could not influence the polls. Later Facebook had to admit to U.S. congressional investigators that it sold around $100,000 worth of political ads to a so-called Russian troll farm that was targeting American voters during the 2016 election.

At present, Facebook is trying to spot fake news accounts by looking for certain patterns of activity in those accounts. It is trying to create an ecosystem to tackle fake news, including removing false accounts and assets like clusters of fraudulently created Pages, banning ads on malicious pages, and limiting the distribution of false posts.

“In the past year, we’ve worked to destroy the business model for false news and reduce its spread, stop bad actors from meddling in elections, and bring a new level of transparency to advertising. Last week, we started prioritizing meaningful posts from friends and family in News Feed to help bring people closer together. We have more work to do and we’re heads down on getting it done.” – Statement by Facebook
In India, Facebook had partnered with a Mumbai-based fact checking organization called Boom, to help the social network fight the spread of fake news in the Indian state of Karnataka ahead of the elections being held in May, 2018.

Google has started a fight against fake news and has put in place automated system that detects “bad publishers”. The search giant also has a dedicated enforcement team that reviews sites and enforces blocks 
and bans.

War against fake news

There may be a deluge of fake news spreading vague and dangerous false information on the social media and in conventional news mediums but thankfully there are sites like AltNews, Boomlive and SMHoaxslayer which combat these lies regularly. They keep an eye on the social media and raise alarm and report the corrected version in their portals. Though it’s a slow process but it has been helping to debunk some of the fake stories circulating for some time.

Popular fake news items

  • AajTak: Fatwa in Saudi Arabia that men can eat their wives if hungry
  • Times Now ran a story of a seven year old photoshopped image of a Rate Card which had the selling price of girls of various different castes in Kerala.
  •  The currency with the chip: The message claimed that these notes are embedded with nano-GPS chips which act as a signal reflector, giving precise location coordinates of the currency in order to allow every note to be tracked. 
  • News of Baba Ramdev’s death spread to promote a YouTube Channel by posting two different images from different times.

Some recent instances of fake news

  • Rahul Gandhi to marry Rae Bareily MLA Aditi Singh 
  • Arjun Kapoor accused of drinking on sets
  • Fake news on Nipah virus affect fruit sales 
  • What is Robert Vadra doing with a Chinese envoy? Victims: RepublicTV and Times Now

Veles: World’s fake news factory

In the final weeks of the US presidential election, Veles in Macedonia attained a weird notoreity; stories in The Guardian and on BuzzFeed revealed that the Macedonian town of 55,000 was the registered home of at least 100 pro-Trump websites, many of them filled with sensationalist, utterly fake news. (The imminent criminal indictment of Hillary Clinton was a popular theme; another was the Pope’s approval of Trump) The sites’ ample traffic was rewarded handsomely by automated advertising engines, like Google’s AdSense. An article in The New Yorker described how President Barack Obama himself spent a day in the final week of the campaign talking “almost obsessively” about Veles and its “digital gold rush.” Source wired.com

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