India, Trump and the Fake News Conundrum

Nothing Wrong With Getting Our News From Facebook Shares, Right? [Hint: No]

India never fails to surprise you. The politicians that you despised 15 years ago when you left the country seem to have found new power. And who knew a nation could pull nearly all its currency out of circulation overnight! But what elates you most, being an engineer, is the new ₹2000 note—it is pure science! Microscopic-nanotechnology … why hasn’t the West thought of this yet?

And now you are an American citizen, and of course Trump got your vote—he was the only legitimate candidate, in your opinion (derived after much deliberation and research). Which other candidate in history has been endorsed by the Pope himself, after all? And who would vote for crooked Hillary, who travels with a body double and refuses to release 35,000 shady emails. God knows what else she hides!

2016 is bound to be remembered as the year when the internet fooled the world. While subliminal messaging and advertising (fine, with small-font disclaimers at the end) as well as perpetuation of false notions were always recognised drawbacks of the internet, they had hitherto been considered no more than mere side-effects, to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, in favour of the greater statute of freedom of speech.

Even national news channel anchors seem to rely on family WhatsApp groups for their information.

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[YouTube]

Yet, it is only when articles explaining the lyrics of the UNESCO-declared Best National Anthem of the World (not) have been replaced by posts dispensing false extremist views as news (and helped alter the outcome of an important election) that we have realized how grave an effect the exploitation of this freedom can have. New and old websites of dubious provenance have been constantly spewing reactionary content all over the web, which, through its sheer nature, attracts views, shares and proliferation, resulting in a broader reach than any fledgling fact-checking website could ever imagine garnering. And as was seen in the first few days of demonetisation, even national news channel anchors seem to rely on family WhatsApp groups for their information.

The standard of rhetoric in the US election was so preposterously low that articles from websites meant for satire and parody, when shared as real news, were not doubted (“Trump’s Cabinet Members to Be Determined by ‘Apprentice’- Style Reality Show” – why not, after all?). Elections do have this uncanny ability of taking away people’s sense of humour.

The upsurge of serious fake news has reinforced the need for vigilance on the part of internet users. In countries like China, of course, that has meant yet another excuse for increased censorship on the internet.

So, while our dear NRI figures where his Indian currency is to be deposited and crumbles under the remorse of his first American vote, the mantle is, more than any think-tank or group of researchers, on the general public, to consume information with eyes and minds open.

 

Also published at HuffPost India as ‘Nothing Wrong With Getting Our News From Facebook Shares, Right?’.

More:
Ichhadhari Naagins Are Making TV Great Again
Taking Offence to Offence

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