Recently a group of Bollywood stars visited Prime Minister Narendra Modi. A photo of their meeting was widely circulated on WhatsApp. But there was a problem. Those who went to meet Mr Modi were not wearing any head strap or tilak on their forehead. On the contrary, the stars in the photo that went viral had a head strap with Jai Sri Ram written on it and a tilak on their forehead.
The general elections in the country are to take place in April-May. The Election Commission is yet to come out with the poll dates. But, WhatsApp ‘got the dates’ as early as the first week of January and a list of States with election dates has gone viral. It is another matter that the State that sends the maximum number of Members of Parliament was missing from the list; instead a new State ‘Simon’ found place in it.
Let us take our memory back to June 8 last year when two young men were on their way to a picnic spot in Assam when they stopped at a village to ask for direction. A few days prior to this, the villagers had been told, in a fake video on the WhatsApp, that child kidnappers were roaming the State. They mistook these strangers and beat them to death.
An analysis by a global agency had found that the most widely shared fake news stories in 2016 were about “Pope Francis endorsing Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton being disqualified from holding federal office, and the FBI director receiving millions from the Clinton Foundation.” When Donald Trump was caught retweeting fake statistics about race and crime, he had reportedly told Fox News: “Am I going to check every statistic? All it was a retweet. It wasn’t from me.”
The above examples are just a tip of a gargantuan ice-berg of fake news circulating in various social media. It tarnishes the image of people; it lynches people; it paints the innocent as culprits; it leads to people fleeing their home and hearth; it creates upheavals in societies around the world. Hence it is important that this ‘genie’ is not let out of the bottle.
The dictum ‘prevention is better than cure’ is equally applicable to preventing fake news. Check before you share. Take a few seconds to verify the source. Discerning persons can make out what is genuine and what is fake. In most cases, application of common sense can nail the lie. In other cases, one can check the genuineness of the news or images through numerous ways like taking recourse to google or calling up the person/s who forwarded it.
The WhatsApp company, in the wake of the irretrievable damage done by social media, has done its part to contain the damage. It has removed the ‘quick forward’ button from the app. It now labels ‘forwarded’ messages, and limits Indian users’ ability to forward messages, photos or videos to only five groups at once, instead of the earlier 20. The key to prevent spread of fake news is with the users of social media themselves. They can desist from forwarding, retweeting patently suspicious posts. They should use the delete button more often than not. That will end the menace of fake news to a great extent.(Published on 21st January 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 04)