The relation between social media and fake news is not hidden to us any more. Social media, that appeared as one of the best inventions and tech developments of the 21st century, is now often criticised because of many reasons and primarily because of the high concentration of fake news floating on it.
The relation between social media and fake news is not hidden to us any more. Social media that appeared as one of the best inventions and tech developments of the 21st century is now often criticised because of many reasons and primarily because of the high concentration of fake news floating on it.
In this article, we will discuss how social media and fake news are interlinked. How can we define fake news? Some popular incidents due to fake news on Social Media? What is the easy way of identification of fake news on social media and the existing laws related to fake news in some countries?
Fake News on Social Media
Burned to death because of a rumour on WhatsAppBBC News
News such as this has become a part of our newspapers and news channels. In the golden age of content, we are almost mechanized to know the information in bits and pieces, and often do we really try to know the authenticity of the news.
Social media these days from Twitter to WhatsApp have replaced newspapers. In this fast pace world where being updated means to be updated in social media, and hence for its people spending a large part of their time, consuming content generated by people wanting to feed their own interest, its effects are hugely detrimental.
Fake News- The ‘New Normal’
Fake News for that matter has now become the ‘new normal’, every day we can read thousands of articles that are published on how fake news has been affecting the very pillars of democracy. With a generation hooked to Social Media, it is important to be responsible enough to differentiate between productive news and news that is used to spread hatred or to feed a certain political vendetta.
To do that it is important to understand what is Fake News?
What is Fake News?
‘Fake News is untrue information presented as news. It often has the aim of damaging the reputation of a person or entity, or making money through advertising revenue’Wikipedia on Fake News
‘Fake News refers to news articles or other items that are deliberately false and intended to manipulate the viewer. While the concept of fake news stretches back to antiquity, it has become a large problem in recent years due to the ease in which it can be spread on social media and other online platforms, as people are often less likely to critically evaluate news shared by their friends or that confirms their existing beliefs. Fake news is alleged to have contributed to important political and economic outcomes in recent years.’Dickinson on Fake News
The invention of Social Media
Like any other new technological invention, social media was made with the intention of revolutionizing the human way of communication, being the ultimate product of globalization and mass consumption across the world.
Mankind was introduced to an effect that can be correlated that of a simultaneous utopia and dystopia. During its initial years Facebook, Twitter sought out with a kind of naïve intention of bringing people together making the world a “single community “under its banner.
Little did it apprehended that it would one day grow to be a curse to his present generation. Recent cases that have culminated from fake news have time and again pointed a finger towards these tech companies and their lack of reforms that can help curb crime against humanity.
Social Media- Profit vs Principles
Some of the fake news, on these platforms, has been created by the people who are taking advantage of the fact that they had been given that access. In recent years one such trend has been visible where political parties have been using social media as a powerful tool to spread their propaganda or to connect with the youth. Doctored videos of incidents have been circulating on Facebook, Twitter has led to hatred, where the minority communities are the one who has been paying the price of it.
Social media has been very carefully experimenting with simple machine learning algorithms. Be it suggesting friends or exposing its user to content, that has been indeed controlling and tracking each and every move of its users. And hence presenting and even indoctrinating people by exposing them to ideas and ideologies creating vast conundrum in the society.
The recent trend of fake news, manipulating election, conspiracy theories have made people wonder where exactly did it go wrong?
Incidents Due to Fake News in India
India is the biggest democracy in the world. Like many of its democratic counterparts could not escape this fate, a country with a huge population and with most people having access to social media platform thanks to the cheap networking services like Jio.
Also, many other companies following its footsteps have allowed even the semi-literate masses to manage to open an account on Facebook and WhatsApp. This might look like a very revolutionary step in the communication sector but unfortunately, the reality is not that good.
2012- North Eastern Exodus
When we talk about social media and fake news, then we always discuss contemporary events. But if we dig little deep in the history of social media we will find rumours and fake news resulting in hatred, panic and violence in even the years when it was not very popular.
In 2012, the ‘North Eastern Exodus’ was an event that shook the entire nation. In Bangalore, thousands of people (~ 2,50,000) hailing from northeast India boarded trains headed to Guwahati following rumours of violence culminating them.
It is believed that this incident occurred because of rumours floating on social networking sites like Facebook. What’s surprising is that at that time there were only 55 million Indians on Facebook, which is not even 20 % of the current users (~ 290 million).
This is one of the first large scale incidents where there was an atmosphere of ‘fear and mistrust’. An important thing to note here is that there was not even one single incidence of violence reported, which clearly means that it was simply a rumour.
2013- Muzaffarnagar Riots
The 2013 Muzzaffarnagar riots between the Hindu and Muslim community which left dozens dead. It also forced 40,000 people to flee their homes. In this incident, many politicians were charged with spreading rumours on social media and posting fake/ morphed videos.
2017 Mob Lynchings
In 2017 a wave of mob attacks and lynching cases of innocent people culminating from fake news through WhatsApp forwards especially in villages where the masses were hardly able to understand the authenticity of news were spurred by online accusations of child abduction.
2018 Ranipada Village Incident
The 2018 Ranipada village incident located in Banapur Odisha incident was another case of violence culminating from fake news, led to five men beaten to death by a raging mob over a WhatsApp forward were the men rumoured to be child kidnappers.
2020 Delhi Riots & Bengaluru Violence
The very recent photos of the Delhi riots that passed off as the Bengaluru violence is one such example, where fake news is liked, shared and retweeted by thousands of people intentionally and unintentionally creating a conundrum and eventually landing in the wrong hands.
Incidents Due to Fake News Across the World
Misinformation continues to be rampant across all countries, the transcontinental effect of news being shared with other countries, has now become a great issue across the world over.
Here are some popular incidents that occurred due to the fake news across the social media platforms.
2016 Pizzagate Conspiracy Theory
The 2016 Pizzagate Conspiracy Theory, that led to a shooting in Washington DC, where a man brought a rifle into the shop and began shooting, what led to the shooting were false tweets.
A CNN report to the issue that the shooter was attempting to find and rescue child sex slaves that he believed was being held at the restaurant- a belief allegedly based on his reading a false story circulating online that connected Hillary Clinton’s campaign adviser to the pizzeria through coded messages in his leaked emails.
2018 Mexican Mob Lynching
On August 29, 2018, two men burned to death in the central Mexican state of Puebla because of rumours that spread through WhatsApp, the BBC reported the mob outside the station on Reforma Street was in the grip of a different version of events, a story stirred up somewhere unknown and spread through the private messaging app WhatsApp.
2020 COVID-19 Crisis
The COVID-19 crisis has tested different nations on various factors. These factors include medical infrastructure, economic stability, scientific temper and international diplomacy.
But one thing that has impacted everyone especially from the government authority and medical fraternity is the penetration of fake news on social media platforms that have given rise to many serious myths.
According to the UN, most of the fake news during these times are because of the political and business benefits of some individual and organisations. Most of the companies and political parties have tried to take advantage of the situation by playing on the emotions and fears of the common public.
Most of the fake news was intentionally spread to blame certain communities or countries (for instance China). Some of the fake news was simply a part of the business model of certain pharma companies, that claimed that they have the cure of this deadly virus.
While some of the fake news emerged as ‘conspiracy theories‘. A very widely believed news was that the COVID-19 virus was intentionally spread as a measure of controlling population and is a bioweapon. Some other people started believing (and still believe) that COVID-19 is a hoax.
Identification of Fake News on Social Media
Identifying the problem from its very root can help curb the spreading of fake news, this requires creating awareness among the people about the negative consequences of social media and using it in a more productive way. Some ways to spot fake news are-
- Checking the source of the information- Check the web address for the page you’re reading, understand the intention of the organisation published that information.
- On Social Media, try to visit the account posting such news. Most of the fake news is shared from anonymous profiles.
- Avoid sharing of news links and posts on social media that appears to be biased, sensational or is inflammatory.
- Checking the credibility of the author writing the article- Whether or not the author or publisher is familiar, stop to consider their and professional experience.
- Headlines that are meant to generate certain reactions from the people- Over exaggeration or a biased headline that are simply meant to catch the attention of the reader into the news.
- Always check the accuracy of the image used, sensationalized images are certainly a red flag- You can use tools such as Google Reverse Image Search to check where an image originated and whether it has been altered.
- Referring to some fake news busting portals and fact-checking websites can help you distinguish between truth and a lie. Some global fake news portals include- BBC Reality Check, Factcheck.org, Google Toolbox
- Some Indian fact-checking websites include- Altnews, Smx Hoax-Slayer, Boom Live
- Also, in case if the situation seems serious and urgent one may contact there local authorities or cyber crime department.
Laws on Fake News
When a bunch of people who are trapped by a business model, an economic incentive, shareholder pressure it makes it incredibly difficult to do something else because when a company becomes big all it cares about global consumerism and expansion of its market that brings revenue.
When there are almost no rules and regulations companies start acting as DeFacto governments and it is here that we all know the “weaponization’’ of social media especially when the news is made in a way that they are built to prioritized content that gets clicked, social media comes around.
No Laws in Most Countries
There are almost no rules regarding digital privacy. The laws runaway behind and the current situation exists not for the protection of the users but for the rights and privileges of these gigantic incredibly wealthy tech companies of the Silicon Valley and the government in power.
With a bigger market in developing countries the government with the help of television media along with the social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter and even manipulating election by sharing fake news. These markets undermine democracy and they undermine freedom and hence should be outlawed if not the death of democracy will be inevitable.
Individual Contribution in this Initiative
Since, the issues like privacy, fake news, cyber crimes, etc. are been raised across the globe by the citizens, many governments have started framing laws on the subject. But we must not wait for governments to frame new laws, instead, we must use our conscience to fight this battle on the individual level.
The simplest thing that we as an individual can do is to refrain from sharing anything without checking its source. Your one fact check can break the cycle of lies and can even save many lives!