Fake news in India
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. 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.
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". 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. India is the largest market for WhatsApp, with over 230 million users, and as a result one of the main platforms on which fake news is spread. One of the main problems is of receivers believing anything sent to them over social media due to lack of awareness. Various initiatives and practices have been started and adopted to curb the spread and impact of fake news.
Fake news was very prevalent during the 2019 Indian general election. Misinformation was prevalent at all levels of society during the build-up to the election. The elections were called by some as "India's first WhatsApp elections", with WhatsApp being used by many as a tool of propaganda. As VICE and AltNews write, "parties have weaponized the platforms" and "misinformation was weaponized" respectively.
India has 22 scheduled languages, 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[update]. Nevertheless, Facebook went on to remove nearly one million accounts a day, including ones spreading misinformation and fake news before the elections.
In August 2019, following the Indian revocation of Jammu and Kashmir's Article 370, disinformation related to whether people were suffering or not, lack of supplies and other administration issues followed. The official Twitter accounts of the CRPF and Kashmir Police apart from other government handles called out misinformation and disinformation in the region. The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology assisted by getting Twitter to suspend accounts spreading fake inciteful news. The Indian Army and media houses such as India Today denied various claims such as the Indian Army burning down houses, the deaths of six personnel in cross border firing, and a series of "torture" allegations made by activist Shehla Rashid via Twitter. 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." 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. The Supreme Court went onto say that the center should make "every endeavor to restore the normalcy as early as possible."
- Tata Chemicals had to deal with a misinformation campaign in 2019 saying that Tata Salt contained high levels of potassium ferrocyanide.
- Following the Kerala floods in 2018 there was a surge of misinformation on social media related to the relief efforts.
- 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.
- Imposters posing as army personnel on the social media have been called out by the Indian Army as false news and disinformation.
- 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.
- The National Mineral Development Corporation had to caution people about fake recruitment notices being spread over the internet.
- 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.
- 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots, which claimed over 60 lives and displaced thousands, was fueled by videos circulated on WhatsApp.
Fighting fake news in India
Internet shutdowns are used by the government as a way to control social media rumours from spreading. Ideas such as linking Aadhaar to social media accounts has been suggested to the Supreme Court of India by the Attorney General. In some parts of India like Kannur in Kerala, the government conducted fake news classes in government schools. Some say the government should conduct more public-education initiatives to make the population more aware of fake news.
In India, Facebook has partnered with fact-checking websites such as BoomLive. 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. 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. Twitter has also taken action to curb the spread of fake news such as deleting accounts.
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.
Fact-checking in India has become a business, spurning the creation of fact-checking websites such as Alt News, BOOM, Factly and SMHoaxSlayer. 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. India Today Group, Vishvas.news, Factly, Newsmobile, and Fact Crescendo (all International Fact-Checking Network certified) are Facebook partners in fact-checking.
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