The fake news menace

Nikhil Bhave
Sunday, 16 July 2017

Social media can either be a boon or a bane. And then there is the hoax/fake news menace. And this has become a menace, particularly on WhatsApp. Here are some samples: While there is still less clarity about GST, there were WhatsApp pics 'warning' people that they will be paying double GST if they paid using a credit card. Another old favourite is a 'list' released by a 'Swiss bank' showing huge sums of money in 'accounts' of politicians and big businessmen. This is but a drop in the deluge.

Social media can either be a boon or a bane. And then there is the hoax/fake news menace. And this has become a menace, particularly on WhatsApp. Here are some samples: While there is still less clarity about GST, there were WhatsApp pics 'warning' people that they will be paying double GST if they paid using a credit card. Another old favourite is a 'list' released by a 'Swiss bank' showing huge sums of money in 'accounts' of politicians and big businessmen. This is but a drop in the deluge.

‘Going viral’ is the word in today’s social media environment. Towards this end, any and every trick is applied. Therefore, you see stories like OMG! See xxx’s intimate pics! which rightfully draw criticism from at least some people. And from using click-bait headlines to making up hoax news, the journey is short.

Such news is peddled with an agenda, that is for sure. Some do it to stay ahead in the rat race of Google rankings, while some do it to push their political narrative. The million dollar question is, how do such news manage to spread?

There is one plausible explanation: way, way too much information. Nowadays, we have thousands of friends on social media and multiple groups on WhatsApp. One gets literally bombarded with information, and slip-ups occasionally happen.

Another reason about fake news’ spread in India is that while more and more people are getting access to smartphones and social media, there is little awareness about how to verify the news. Plus, we in the subcontinent love conspiracy theories. Thus, gossip has now taken the form of news and people tend to forward it because a close relative sent the stuff to them in the first place.

So what can be done to combat this menace? Firstly, painful as the process is, it is useful to avoid anything which is begging for a like or a share. A large number of such posts end up with a subtle or outright appeal to things like patriotism to spread the post.

Secondly, and it is a duty for all of us, is to create awareness about the virulent spread of fake news. People need to be made aware that just because something is on the Internet, it is not true.

Also, please Google it before sending it forward. Should we let ourselves be used as tools for marketing or politics? The menace of fake news is very real and it needs to to be checked.

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