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Polls Midway, Social Media Still Fighting Fake News

WhatsApp has also launched a research project in India where over 200 million users in the country can tip off fake news, misinformation and rumours related to elections

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A third kind of disinformation campaign simply aims to increase a foreign audience's everyday, incidental exposure to "fake news." Pixabay

The great Indian election season has hit midway – with three phases of voting now over and four more to go – but social media platforms are still scrambling to control the spread of election-related misinformation.

Social media “warriors” are busy propagating “reworked” and “reoriented” content related to political news, government scams, historical myths, patriotism and nationalism on Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter.

“Apart from the fake news and doctored contents, chatbots are sending bulk WhatsApp messages on active mobile numbers, not only on WhatsApp but on Facebook Messenger as well,” nation’s leading social media expert Anoop Mishra told IANS.

There are several cases where people who joined Facebook renamed their Pages, Groups and accounts later, only to use it for spreading their political agenda in the election season.

Despite Facebook’s efforts, such misinformation is thriving and has reached mammoth levels, say experts.

“Over 90,000 groups on WhatsApp and more than 200 fake Facebook Pages and accounts are currently influencing the group members and followers with biased political content,” said Mishra.

The content involves fake statistics of the government’s policies to news prompting regional violence, from manipulated political news, government scams, historical myths, propaganda to patriotism and Hindu nationalism.

Two main political parties are leaving no stone unturned in reaching out to voters via various social media platforms.

Social media platforms, however, say they are proactively disabling bots and fake accounts being used for political interference in India.

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Just days ahead of the general elections in India, the expansion of the test “Labels” feature on the app could help the cyber cell and other law enforcement authorities to nab hateful, abusive and fake news spread on the app. Pixabay

Facebook said recently it is removing or blocking about one million abusive accounts a day with the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) tools.

The social media giant has also removed nearly 700 Pages, Groups and accounts in India for violating its policies on what it calls “coordinated inauthentic behaviour” and spam.

It now has Ad Library, a searchable database, in place in India. Indians spent around Rs 7 crore for running political ads on Facebook and Instagram in the first 20 days of April, while the amount spent on these platforms in February-March was about Rs 10 crore.

On the other hand, Twitter has announced a new tool within the platform to make it easier for users to report attempts to interfere in the general elections in India through spread of misleading information about voting.

It earlier launched an Ads Transparency Centre that allows anyone to view details on political campaigning ads and billing information in India.

WhatsApp has also launched a research project in India where over 200 million users in the country can tip off fake news, misinformation and rumours related to elections.

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Launched by PROTO, a media skilling start-up, the tipline will help create a database of rumours to study misinformation during elections for Checkpoint — a research project commissioned by WhatsApp.

Are these measures sufficient to curb the fake news in the world’s biggest election?

“The social media giants began their work towards safeguarding the India elections a bit late and some of the measures were announced near to the poll dates. It is difficult to tell if these measures will bear fruits and tame the fake news factories or not,” lamented Mishra. (IANS)

Next Story

The Much Needed ‘Digital Revolution’ on the Right Track

However, according to R.K. Rana, former Director General, Assam Rifles, social media has limited use for the Armed Forces

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"It's time for social media companies to get serious about their responsibility to young people," Hinds was quoted as saying by The Sun. Pixabay

For the Generation Z, it has already become a way of life – tweeting about the problems while getting a passport or writing a Facebook post about the sanitary conditions on trains and expecting a response from the concerned authorities. This was unimagianble just a few years ago.

In fact, keeping in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of creating a digitally empowered nation, a large number of leaders, organisations, Ministries and the Armed Forces are marking their presence felt online – that too with witty quips at times.

With rapid smartphone penetration and half a billion people in the country now using Internet, millennials now feel that the much needed “digital revolution” is on the right track.

Sampada Saraf, a 24-year old Deputy Collector from Madhya Pradesh believes that digitalisation has not only made proceedings more transparent for the citizens, but has also helped authorities keep a tab on the progress of their work.

“From registration of complaints to getting a caste certificate, ration card or land disputes, has been or is in the process of being shifted ‘online’,” Saraf told IANS.

“Our official Facebook pages and Twitter accounts keep us well connected to the people we serve.”

The previous government launched the “Digital India” campaign in 2015 to ensure all of the government’s services are made electronically available.

Four years later, today, the Ministry of Railways, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Textiles, Ministry of Human Resource Development, Office of the Prime Minister of India (PMO India), Ministry of Defence, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and other major organisations are heavily followed on social networking platforms.

How active, witty and prompt the Indian government organisations are on social media was highlighted recently when the Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) responded to a user of its official ticket booking application who complained of obscene advertisements on the app.

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When journalists apply their traditional method of crafting headlines, tweets and other social media posts to Trump, they end up passively spreading misinformation by uncritically repeating his falsehoods, the study added. Pixabay

The response of IRCTC, asking the user to clear his browsing history, kept trending on all social networking websites for a couple of days.

While talking to IANS, Alok Dave, retired General Manager, Modern Coach Factory, Raebareli said, “I think there is a paradigm shift in any communication with people due to technology changes and therefore everybody, whether government or private must use these methods for basic survival.”

Since digitalisation has bridged the gap between citizens and the government, a lot of information and data now reach the authorities first hand.

“Social media has eliminated the need of a middleman. People personally reach out to us with their grievances which not only keeps information clear but also helps us help them immediately,” said Sunil Dubey, Deputy Secretary, Department of Revenue, Madhya Pradesh.

Leading from the front, Modi has 47.8 million followers on Twitter where he conveys important policy decisions and 22.9 million followers on Instagram where he posts about cricket, travel destinations and pictures of him meditating in ice capped mountains, while keeping his country informed about the work he looks into.

There are also no two opinions about the fact that people now care about the digital presence of the government handles.

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Twitterati on Friday, for example, reacted sharply after the Twitter handle of the Indian Army’s Chinar Corps was suspended for unknown reason. The account was restored later.

However, according to R.K. Rana, former Director General, Assam Rifles, social media has limited use for the Armed Forces.

“The Army must make use of social media for specific purposes like instilling faith in the hearts and minds of people in terrorism infected and remote areas and in aiding civil authorities during floods, earthquakes etc.,” Rana said. (IANS)