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Diversity is a fact of life in India, can not be wished away: President Mukherjee

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New Delhi, April 9 : Describing “pluralism and tolerance” as India’s core philosophy, President Pranab Mukherjee on Saturday said diversity was a fact of life in the country that cannot be wished away by any whims.

Mukherjee said democracy was not merely about numbers but rather a phenomenon that calls for consensus building.

“Diversity is a fact in India. It cannot be turned into fiction by whims and caprices of few individuals,” he said delivering the first Arjun Singh memorial lecture here.

“Democracy is not all about numbers but it also calls for consensus building,” Mukherjee said and described “pluralism and tolerance as core philosophy” that must be continued undeterred.

“While we must wield no space to anarchy, efficient democratic machinery must have the means and wherewithal to absorb public opinion for formulation of sound policies,” the president said.

He said India’s cherished communal harmony might be often put to test by “vested interests” but maintained that “we must remain alert to communal tensions rearing its ugly head anywhere.

“Rule of law must form the sole basis for dealing with any challenging situation. It is our democratic underpinning that must prevail at all times.”

“The multiplicity in culture, faith and language is what makes India special. We derive our strength from tolerance. It has been part of our collective consciousness for centuries. It has worked well for us and it is the only way it will work for us,” he said.

“India is a multi-faceted nation of 1.3 billion people, 122 languages, 1,600 dialects and seven religions,” Mukherjee said at the function attended among others by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who speaking earlier, expressed “chinta” (concern) over the “increasing threat to the secular fabric of the country”.

The function was also attended by former prime minister Manmohan Singh, former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah and Congress leaders Digvijay Singh, Kamal Nath, M.L. Fotedar and others.

Recalling her long association with former union minister Arjun Singh, Sonia Gandhi said he was a true symbol of commitment to secularism and to the cause of the poor.

Paying tributes to Arjun Singh’s commitment to secular values, Gandhi said that by looking at things happening in the society, “I feel there is need to have more people like Arjun Singh”.

The president spoke at length on Arjun Singh’s steering of the country’s education portfolio and said his former colleague holds the distinction of handling the responsibility for eight years — in two stints.

Arjun Singh held the human resource development ministry portfolio under P.V. Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh.

“This (eight years) was the longest stint by any education minister after Maulana Abul Kalam Azad,” the president said.

On the overall higher education front, Mukherjee lamented that for long no Indian university has given any Nobel laureate and pointed out that the likes of Amartya Sen and Har Gobind Khorana could not be retained by Indian universities.

There must be “serious scrutiny” over this, he said and asserted that this trend must change.

In terms of numbers, he said while India has over 730 universities and 35,000 colleges but “the quality of education is not up to international standards”. (IANS)

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WhatsApp Announces 20 Teams To Curb Fake News Globally

In India, WhatsApp has partnered with the Digital Empowerment Foundation to train community leaders in several states on how to address misinformation

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WhatsApp selects 20 teams to curb fake news globally, including India. Pixabay

Facebook-owned WhatsApp on Tuesday announced that it has selected 20 research teams worldwide – including experts from India and those of Indian origin — who will work towards how misinformation spreads and what additional steps the mobile messaging platform could take to curb fake news.

Shakuntala Banaji from London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), Anushi Agrawal and Nihal Passanha from Bengaluru-based media and arts collective “Maraa” and Ramnath Bhat from LSE have been selected for the paper titled “WhatsApp Vigilantes? WhatsApp messages and mob violence in India”.

The research examines the ways in which WhatsApp users understand and find solutions to the spate of “WhatsApp lynchings” that has killed over 30 people so far.

The Indian government has also directed WhatsApp to take necessary remedial measures to prevent proliferation of fake and, at times, motivated/sensational messages on its platform.

Among others selected were Vineet Kumar from Ranchi-headquartered Cyber Peace Foundation (principal investigator), Amrita Choudhary, President of the Delhi-based non-profit Cyber Café Association of India (CCAOI) and Anand Raje from Cyber Peace Foundation.

They will work as a team on the paper titled “Digital literacy and impact of misinformation on emerging digital societies”.

P.N. Vasanti from Centre for Media Studies in New Delhi woll work withS. Shyam Sundar, The Pennsylvania State University (Principal Investigator) to examine the role of content modality in vulnerability to misinformation, under the topic titled “Seeing is Believing: Is Video Modality More Powerful in Spreading Fake News?”

WhatsApp had issued a call for papers in July this year and received proposals from over 600 research teams around the world.

“Each of the 20 research teams will receive up to $50,000 for their project (for a total of $1 million),” WhatsApp said in a statement.

Lipika Kamra from O.P. Jindal Global University and Philippa Williams from the Queen Mary University of London (Principal Investigator) will examine the role of WhatsApp in everyday political conversations in India, in the context of India’s social media ecosystem.

According to Mrinalini Rao, lead researcher at WhatsApp, the platform cares deeply about the safety of its over 1.5 billion monthly active users globally and over 200 million users in India.

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WhatsApp on a smartphone device. Pixabay

“We appreciate the opportunity to learn from these international experts about how we can continue to help address the impact of misinformation,” Rao said.

“These studies will help us build upon recent changes we have made within WhatsApp and support broad education campaigns to help keep people safe,” she added.

The recipients are from countries including Brazil, India, Indonesia, Israel, Mexico, Netherlands, Nigeria, Singapore, Spain, the UK and US.

WhatsApp said it is hosting them in California this week so they can hear from product leaders about how it builds its product.

“Given the nature of private messaging – where 90 per cent of the messages sent are between two people and group sizes are strictly limited – our focus remains on educating and empowering users and proactively tackling abuse,” said the company.

WhatsApp recently implemented a “forward label” to inform users when they received a message that was not originally written by their friend or loved one. To tackle abuse, WhatApp has also set a limit on how many forwards can be sent.

In India, WhatsApp has partnered with the Digital Empowerment Foundation to train community leaders in several states on how to address misinformation.

Also Read- Facebook Blocks Accounts Engaged in Malicious Activities

“We are also running ads in several languages — in print, online, and on over 100 radio stations — amounting to the largest public education campaign on misinformation anywhere in the world,” the company noted.

Sayan Banerjee from University of Essex, Srinjoy Bose from University of New South Wales and Robert A. Johns from University of Essex will study “Misinformation in Diverse Societies, Political Behaviour & Good Governance”.

Santosh Vijaykumar from Northumbria University, Arun Nair from Health Systems Research India Initiative and Venkat Chilukuri, Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology are part of the team that will study “Misinformation Vulnerabilities among Elderly during Disease Outbreaks”. (IANS)