Fake news in India

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Fake news in India refers to misinformation or disinformation in the country which is spread through word of mouth and traditional media and more recently through digital forms of communication such as edited videos, memes, unverified advertisements and social media propagated rumours.[1][2] Fake news spread through social media in the country has become a serious problem, with the potential of it resulting in mob violence, as was the case where at least 20 people were killed in 2018 as a result of misinformation circulated on social media.[3][4]

Background[edit]

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, director at Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, thinks that "the problems of disinformation in a society like India might be more sophisticated and more challenging than they are in the West".[5] The damage caused due to fake news on social media has increased due to the growth of the internet penetration in India, which has risen from 137 million internet users in 2012 to over 600 million in 2019.[6] India is the largest market for WhatsApp, with over 230 million users, and as a result it is one of the main platforms on which fake news is spread.[7][8] One of the principal problems is that receivers believe anything sent to them over social media due to lack of awareness.[9] Various initiatives and practices have been started and adopted to curb the spread and impact of fake news.[10] Fake news is also spread through Facebook and Twitter.[11][12][13]

According to a report by The Guardian, the Indian media research agency CMS stated that the cause of spread of fake news was that India "lacked (a) media policy for verification". Additionally, law enforcement officers have arrested reporters and journalists for "creating fictitious articles", especially when the articles were controversial.[14][15]

In India, the spread of fake news has occurred with relation to political and religious matters. The IT Cells of the BJP, Congress and other political parties have been accused of spreading fake news against the party's political opponents and any campaigns against the party.[16] The BJP is accused of spreading fake news targeting religious minorities.[17][18][19]

Examples[edit]

Coronavirus[edit]

Misinformation related to coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic is in the form of social media messages related to home remedies that have not been verified, fake advisories and conspiracy theories.[20][21] At least two people have been arrested for spreading fake news about the coronavirus pandemic.[22][23] On 7 March 2020, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made an appeal to not believe any rumors' related to the pandemic.[20] The Press Information Bureau brought out a fact check that stories about a financial emergency being imposed in India are fake.[24][25] To counteract this, over 400 Indian Scientists are working together to debunk false information about the virus, as of 14 April.[26]

Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019[edit]

The Supreme Court of India asked the central government of India to consider "a plea for publicizing aims, objectives and the benefits of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) to weed out fake news that was being circulated on the issue."[27][28] The plea lawyer stated "I visited Jamia and Seelampur yesterday. 95% protesters do not know about the CAA. They feel the law will take back their citizenship. Miscreants are circulating fake news".[27]

Around 5000 social media handles from Pakistan were part of "actively spreading fake and false propaganda" on CAA, some using "deep fake videos" in the process.[29] 15,000 social media mediators worked overtime to identify fake news related to CAA from platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, TikTok and Helo.[30]

The Indian Ministry of External Affairs called out the Prime Minister of Malaysia for "factually inaccurate remarks" on the CAA.[31][32] Bangalore Police Commissioner called for people not to believe fake news related to CAA while the Assam Police cautioned people to be careful while posting on the social media.[33][34] Delhi Police was reported to be monitoring the social media for misinformation being spread related to violence at Jamia Millia Islamia in relation to CAA.[35]

Elections[edit]

Fake news was very prevalent during the 2019 Indian general election.[36][37][38][39] The elections were called by some as "India's first WhatsApp elections", with WhatsApp being used by many as a tool of propaganda.[7][40] As VICE and AltNews write, "parties have weaponized the platforms" and "misinformation was weaponized" respectively.[41][42]

India has 22 scheduled languages,[43] and vetting information in all of them becomes difficult for multinationals like Facebook, which has only gathered the resources to vet 10 of them, leaving languages like Sindhi, Odia and Kannada completely unvetted, as of May 2019.[44] Nevertheless, Facebook went on to remove nearly one million accounts a day, including ones spreading misinformation and fake news before the elections.[45]

Fake news websites[edit]

A study by the EU DisinfoLab found that at least "265 fake local news websites in more than 65 countries are managed by Indian influence networks with the aim of influencing international institutions along with elected representatives and swaying the public perception of Pakistan."[46] Prominent fake news-spreading websites and online resources include OpIndia[47][48] and Postcard News.[49][50]

Other Fake news website is Indiarag which constantly edited the statements of various persons, reported fake incidents which are heavily biased towards Bharatiya Janata Party.[51]

Kashmir[edit]

Misinformation and disinformation related to Kashmir is widely prevalent.[52][53] There have been multiple instances of pictures from the Syrian and the Iraqi civil wars being passed off as from the Kashmir conflict with the intention of fuelling unrest and backing insurgencies.[54][55][56]

In August 2019, following the Indian revocation of Jammu and Kashmir's Article 370, disinformation related to security, public welfare, lack of supplies and other administration issues followed.[57][58] The official Twitter accounts of the CRPF and Kashmir Police apart from other government handles called out misinformation and disinformation in the region.[59] The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology assisted by getting Twitter to suspend accounts spreading fake inciteful news.[60] The Indian Army and media houses such as India Today denied various claims such as the Indian Army burning down houses,[61] the deaths of six personnel in cross border firing,[62] and a series of "torture" allegations made by activist Shehla Rashid via Twitter.[63][64] On the other hand, The New York Times claimed officials in New Delhi were portraying a sense of normality in the region, whereas "security personnel in Kashmir said large protests kept erupting". The newspaper quoted a soldier Ravi Kant saying "mobs of a dozen, two dozen, even more, sometimes with a lot of women, come out, pelt stones at us and run away."[65] The Supreme Court of India was told by the Solicitor General Tushar Mehta that "not a single bullet has been fired by security forces after August 5", however BBC reported otherwise.[66][67] The Supreme Court went onto say that the center should make "every endeavor to restore the normalcy as early as possible."[66]

Civil war in Pakistan[edit]

In October 2020, fake news related to a civil war breaking out in Karachi was widely circulated in India.[68]

Other examples[edit]

  • Imposters posing as army personnel on the social media have been called out by the Indian Army as false news and disinformation.[69]
  • 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots, which claimed over 60 lives and displaced thousands, were fueled by videos circulated on WhatsApp.[70][71]
  • The NaMo app, an app dedicated to Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India, was reported to have promoted and spread fake news.[72][73]
  • Following the Kerala floods in 2018 there was a surge of misinformation on social media related to the relief efforts.[74]
  • Following the murder of a two-and-a-half-year-old in Aligarh in 2019, misinformation related to the brutalities of the incident was viral on the social media.[75]
  • Rumours on the social media in April 2019 related to supposed dangers of vaccinations, resulted in some schools in Mumbai stopping health officials from administering vaccinations to children.[76]
  • The National Mineral Development Corporation had to caution people about fake recruitment notices being spread over the internet.[77]
  • Piyush Goyal, the Minister for Power in India, had tweeted a photo promoting a government street-lighting programme, but the photo was of a place in Russia.[78]

Countermeasures[edit]

Fighting Fake News

Internet shutdowns are used by the government as a way to control social media rumours from spreading.[58][79] Ideas such as linking Aadhaar to social media accounts has been suggested to the Supreme Court of India by the Attorney General.[80] In some parts of India like Kannur in Kerala, the government conducted fake news classes in government schools.[81] Some say the government should conduct more public-education initiatives to make the population more aware of fake news.[82]

In India, Facebook has partnered with fact-checking websites such as BOOM[39] and Webqoof by The Quint. Following over 30 killings linked to rumours spread over WhatsApp, WhatsApp introduced various measures to curb the spread of misinformation, which included limiting the number of people a message could be forwarded to as well as introducing a tip-line among other measures such as suspending accounts and sending cease-and-desist letters.[83][84] WhatsApp also added a small tag, forwarded, to relevant messages. They also started a course for digital literacy and came out with full page advertisements in newspapers in multiple languages.[85] Twitter has also taken action to curb the spread of fake news such as deleting accounts.[86]

In 2018, Google News launched a program to train 8000 journalists in seven official Indian languages including English. The program, Google's largest training initiative in the world, would spread awareness of fake news and anti-misinformation practices such as fact-checking.[87]

Fact-checking in India has spurned the creation of fact-checking websites such as BOOM, Alt News, Factly and SMHoaxSlayer.[88][89] Media houses also have their own fact-checking departments now such as the India Today Group, Times Internet has TOI Factcheck and The Quint has WebQoof.[90][91] India Today Group, Vishvas.news, Factly, Newsmobile, and Fact Crescendo (all International Fact-Checking Network certified) are Facebook partners in fact-checking.[88]

In November 2019, the Indian ministry of information and broadcasting planned to set up a FACT checking module to counter the circulation of fake news by continuous monitoring of online news sources and publicly visible social media posts. The module will work on the four principles of "Find, Assess, Create and Target" (FACT). The module will initially will be run by information service officers.[92] Near the end of 2019, the Press Information Bureau (which comes under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting) set up a fact-checking unit which would focus on verifying news related to the government.[93][94]

References[edit]

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Bibliography

  • Pratik Sinha (2019). India Misinformed: The True Story. HarperCollins India. ISBN 9789353028374

Further reading[edit]