Suppose a person who works as a software engineer at an MNC was beaten up by a crowd because of the information shared on WhatsApp. They hammered this person so hard that he suffered life-threatening injuries and was hospitalized. Does this scare you because it can happen to you too? When I say that the mob beat this person so brutally that they lost their life. It is all the more serious how this can be possible for the mob to take their own life without listening to the person concerned. The mob only takes the law into their hands on the basis of suspicion and unchecked information. This is the true story of Salman, a software engineer suspected of being a child kidnapper in Karnataka based on a rumor. This is not the only incident. Such incidents are common in many parts of the country. The central component of all of these incidents were rumors or false information posted on social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook, etc. Such information that is invalid, untrue, or unverifiable is known as fake news. According to a study published by Business Standard (BS), 77 percent of the cases of mob violence reported as child abduction rumors were fake. Whatsapp in particular, a mobile messenger, was used as a source of rumors in 28% of the cases. Between 2014 and 2018, a total of 45 people were killed in 40 cases of mob lynching in different states, and the trend in 2020 is also rising. In a society, the generation, production and dissemination of information is of fundamental importance for a social and economic activity in which the circulation of information through the use of Information and communication technology (ICT) to form a digital or information society. In the 21st century we are talking about this type of digital society and digital India, but such incidents have governments, policymakers, Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) and civil society. Simply by introducing ICT into daily work and exchanging information on social media platforms, promoting e-governance requires a serious rethink in terms of conception, design and implementation in today’s rapidly changing digital and information-driven world.
Fake news and its effects
Fake news is deliberate, motivational disinformation or misinformation or misinterpretation of information that is disseminated via information exchange platforms such as traditional news media (print and online), online social media platforms such as Facebook, Whatsapp, Twitter, etc. Fake news is used to spread propaganda for different types of profits – financial, economic, social or political and environmental. Fake news can take several forms: authentic information that is deliberately used in the wrong context, a section of information that is misinterpreted, fraudulent news channels such as websites that are supposed to look familiar with brands, unverified and unsecured information that is in Online or offline groups are shared; manipulated content in the form of text, images, audio or videos or the parody account that spreads misinformation. It’s not a new concept. With the increasing penetration of ICT, digital technologies and technology integration, the area of information generation has been democratized without editing and without suitable mechanisms for mutual checking. It used to be less extensive and there were certain organizations that had adequate controls in place to disseminate information. Technology has given everyone the opportunity to contribute information without thinking about its authenticity, verifiability, validity, context and implication. This enormous amount of misinformation due to the large population and the digitally illiterate masses is becoming a challenge for governments that has serious, diverse and multidimensional effects on society. In sociological terms, it decreases the trust of citizens, creates hostility and distrust in the community and society. Fake news is seen as one of the greatest threats to democracy and free debate today. It puts communities on the edge, makes certain parts of society vulnerable and creates fear in their minds, thereby destroying the fabric of social relationships and reducing social cohesion. Economically, it disrupts the smooth flow of goods and services, commercial activities due to tensions in the social fabric of the country. Many industrialists have also expressed concern about it. Culturally, too, society suffers setbacks when conflicts arise. There can be widespread civil unrest, regularity problems and the loss of public and private property. One of the important aspects of fake news is that it distracts people’s attention and focuses on insignificant or less important topics. The widespread perversion of social media platforms like Facebook, Youtube, Whatsapp and Twitter to spread fake news is worrying worldwide. They are a great tool for disseminating political propaganda in elections today in both developed and developing countries. By examining fake news patterns and effects, it is observed that fake news does not change people’s political opinions, but reinforces existing dogmas and emphasizes the most critical motives in them. Various reports show that fake news is practiced in order to create a colorful insight into political competitors or a certain group of people and to manipulate the electoral decisions of voters.
Fake news and India
India is the second largest nation in the world and is aiming for industrialization. Indian growth is being driven by the service sector, in which information technology plays an important role. India has over 460 million internet users and according to the McKinsey study, internet usage trends are greater in India than in China. According to a report by investment firm Omidyar Network, there are 200 million monthly users on Whatsapp in India and a similar number on Facebook. Internet users spend 70 percent of their time with apps like Facebook and WhatsApp. Such a large pool of the population sharing false information on social media and technology platforms poses major challenges in the context of fake news. Another major study was conducted by MIT regarding the spread of fake news and it was reported that fake news Spread faster than real news and by the time real news does damage, damage has already been done. How do you govern and maintain the social structure, culture, law and order in such situations in a sustainable order?
Government intervention and steps are taken
Fake news is not a single domain problem, but requires multi-dimensional viewing and planning. It includes problems of law and order, lack of government policy, insufficient skills of local administration, lack of awareness of digital media and misinformation, lack of technological solutions to detect fake news in the large databases of technology information and social media platforms, etc. To the problem To solve the fake news, the government must adopt a multi-pronged strategy for a sustainable, long-term solution. Politically, the government must provide a policy document and receive feedback from stakeholders to identify, monitor, and contain the fake news. The focus should be on developing the necessary steps objectively and clearly. Experience from other countries can also be helpful. Law enforcement agencies and personnel are challenged to identify and detect counterfeit messages and, once identified, develop the strategy to contain their spread. There should be advanced research and development, workshops, and dedicated teams to analyze the social media data with the help of social media companies, as was done by the Election Commission of India during the 2019 general election. Filtering and detection of social media content is a massive global problem for the social media giants Facebook, Twitter, Google. You do not have a complete template and no technical solution to immediately and automatically recognize fake news from a large number of news databases in order to consistently prevent or eliminate online fake news. Currently, they are making decisions based on user feedback in order to spot and spot the fake news and hate speech, which in turn is a manual, slow and subjective process. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to tackling misinformation and solving this problem quickly. The government should ask colleges and industry to develop systems and tools to detect fake news through funding from government and private organizations. Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) and staff need dedicated and specialized teams and cells for analyzing social media content in close coordination with social media platforms and technology giants to mitigate the effects of fake news. Journalism has a great responsibility, the media should pay attention to the content and its reporting so that it is not misused and misrepresented. Citizens should also be trained to be more scientific and rational, and to objectively review the information before believing any information from the social media platform. Fact-checking and media literacy workshops should become part of the governance machinery, education systems and curriculum. Social media policies need to be developed and strict rules in place for sharing fake news and information that can create legal issues. The government should run a series of programs in schools, colleges and colleges to detect and stop fake news.
Fake news is a serious predicament in today’s evolving digital and information society, posing challenges to national security, democracy, free speech, business, trade and commerce, the social fabric and cohesion of the diverse society of India. The government must adopt a multi-dimensional strategy and proactively take action from a multidirectional perspective, keeping an eye on its implementation, implementation and effectiveness so that no innocent person falls victim to such incidents.
Dr. Sachin Kumar Sharma is Assistant Professor at the Cluster Innovation Center at the University of Delhi. He is a recognized researcher and public policy expert in the fields of Artificial Intelligence, Urban Computing, and Information and Computational Social Systems.
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