Tuesday June 18, 2019
Home Lead Story India Polls: ...

India Polls: ‘All-Time High’ Fake News Storm Hits Millions

The country has 366 million Internet subscribers in urban locations and 194 million in rural areas

0
//
India Polls, Fake News, Millions
Reaching out to the old people, who are newly getting introduced to smartphones and social media is a challenge. Pixabay

Veena Arora, a retired school principal in a small town of Uttar Pradesh, decided to use a smartphone in November last year for the first time at the cajoling of her children so that the family could stay together online even though they live in different cities.

In no time, she joined WhatsApp and started getting updates from family, relatives and friends. Then started the flood of forwarded messages from people in her contact list.

These forwards, many of which contained fake news, surged during the election time. Arora had no idea that these could be propaganda material. She became aware of the problem only after one of her sons alerted her about a fake political message she had forwarded.

“I never knew how a post could be fake or bogus. Photoshopped? I could never figure out if the message loaded with political information was right or wrong. For me, it was just information, which I kept sharing with friends and family members,” Arora told IANS.

India Polls, Fake News, Millions
These forwards, many of which contained fake news, surged during the election time. Pixabay

Arora is among an estimated 300 million users — mostly first-time smartphone users, from the smaller towns and rural areas with no prior digital experience — who are particularly vulnerable to sharing fake information on social media platforms.

“The biggest challenge to fighting fake new is that over 300 million of the 550 million smartphone and broadband users in the country are low on literacy and digital literacy and are especially gullible,” leading tech policy and media consultant Prasanto K. Roy told IANS.

“For them, we need prominent messaging and public education on the dangers — that fake news kills,” Roy emphasised.

The country has 366 million Internet subscribers in urban locations and 194 million in rural areas, says the latest TRAI report.

Also Read- Palestinians Inaugurates First Solar Plant to Reduce Dependence on Israeli Power Sources

The “ICUBETM 2018” report from market research firm Kantar IMRB said that the number of Internet users in the country will reach 627 million by the end of 2019.

According to Govindraj Ethiraj, Founder – BOOM, which has collaborated with Facebook, Google and Twitter, among others, to fight misinformation, educating new social media users about the dangers of fake news is a major challenge.

“Although millennials are no less vulnerable to fake news, they could be taught about its dangers through the introduction of education programmes in schools or advertisements. Reaching out to the old people, who are newly getting introduced to smartphones and social media is a greater challenge,” Ethiraj told IANS.

He, however, noted that once awareness increases among the general population, old people could also be educated.

India Polls, Fake News, Millions
Mostly first-time smartphone users, from the smaller towns and rural areas with no prior digital experience — are particularly vulnerable to sharing fake information on social media platforms. Pixabay

“Many times, children teach their grandparents a lot of things,” Ethiraj said, while adding that fighting fake news is a daunting challenge.

“The spread of fake news reached an all-time high in the run up to the 2019 general election, despite social media platforms fighting them back by combining people (fact checkers) and technology,” Ethiraj added.

But this “fight back” has warned the organised fake news peddlers as they run the risk of getting exposed by fact checkers.

The number of eligible voters in the Lok Sabha elections this year was around 900 million. Both Facebook and WhatsApp have nearly 300 million users each in India.

Also Read- Limiting Phone Use Can Reverse Sleep Problems In a Week

Facing flak from different quarters for the spread of misinformation on its platform that were linked to dozens of lynching cases in India last year, Facebook-owned WhatsApp also introduced advertisement education programme in over 10 languages.

All these efforts, however, had only limited success in curbing spread of disinformation during this election season.

“Fake news has been a primary and significant driver of sentiment and passion through this election,” Roy said.

“Even now, on the eve of the counting day, fake news is being seeded by political influencers on Twitter (for example, Bollywood actress Payal Rohatgi saying Khan Market in Delhi is named after a Mughal invader and must be renamed Valmiki Market) and instantly being circulated on WhatsApp,” he added.

India Polls, Fake News, Millions
over 300 million of the 550 million smartphone and broadband users in the country are low on literacy and digital literacy. Pixabay

A part of the problem is that for many of the social media platforms India is a bigger market than their “home” market, said Ethiraj.

“These products were probably not originally designed to deal with the diversity and vastness of the India market, but they are now trying to adapt to the Indian situation and deal with the unique challenges that the country poses,” he said. (IANS)

Next Story

Fake News Continues to Flourish on Social Media Platforms After Polls

The flow of fake news after the election results suggests that the tide of misinformation on social media is unlikely to stop any time soon

0
India Polls, Fake News, Millions
Reaching out to the old people, who are newly getting introduced to smartphones and social media is a challenge. Pixabay

Posts containing fake news continued to flourish on social media platforms after the end of the Lok Sabha elections that saw the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) returning to power with a massive win.

Celebrations followed the results that pave the way for Modi to become the Prime Minister of the country for the second consecutive term. Some distributed ladoos to celebrate the victory. A few others spread fake news.

A post claiming that “Welcome Modi Ji” has been written on all the city buses of London soon started doing the rounds on social media platforms.

The claims were found to be fake by fact-checking platform BOOM. The images used for the posts originated in 2015, when a bus named “Modi Express” was launched by the Indians living in the UK, the fact checkers found.

Some even circulated a video on Facebook that claimed that a Gujrati man got so elated with Modi’s re-election that he showered cash on people in Milton, Canada. The caption that accompanied the video claimed that the man made a lot of profit after the share market responded positively to Modi’s re-election.

BOOM traced the viral video to the Instagram account of a Detroit, US based man. It found that the video, originally shot in New York, was uploaded much before the election results in India were declared and it had nothing to do with the celebration of BJP’s victory.

On May 23, the day the results of the Lok Sabha polls were declared, a video that showed Modi with his mother went viral on Facebook. While social media users claimed that the video was shot after BJP’s landslide victory in the elections, fact checking website Alt News traced the video to 2014.

India Polls, Fake News, Millions
These forwards, many of which contained fake news, surged during the election time. Pixabay

BOOM also found that following the victory of the BJP, a quote that was falsely attributed to Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan in the past resurfaced on WhatsApp.

“I would leave India if Modi becomes the PM of this country,” the actor was falsely quoted as saying in the post that demanded that the actor should now “apologise or leave the country as PM Modi is back”.

BOOM traced the quote to a fake tweet and fake news report that celebrated the 2018 April Fool’s Day with the false information.

These posts, however, are only the tip of the iceberg. Many more fake posts are doing the rounds on social media with some even falsely claiming that six lakh votes polled in favour of Congress President Rahul Gandhi in Kerala’s Wayanad mysteriously disappeared from the records.

Also Read- Easing Fears in Wake of Data Breach Should be Priority, Says Researcher

According to BOOM Founder Govindraj Ethiraj, the spread of fake news reached an “all-time high” in the run up to the 2019 general election.

The flow of fake news after the election results suggests that the tide of misinformation on social media is unlikely to stop any time soon.

“The biggest challenge to fighting fake new is that over 300 million of the 550 million smartphone and broadband users in the country are low on literacy and digital literacy and are especially gullible,” leading tech policy and media consultant Prasanto K. Roy earlier told IANS. (IANS)