I write for the ABP on fake news
Right now, if you were a political news junkie, you would be right in believing that there are only two people in the world who are the lightning rod for either all things dreadful, or all things good. Donald Trump, in the United States, and Yogi Adityanath are dominating pretty much all the headlines in the digital and traditional media space. It is very difficult to find news or opinion, that presents the facts, as they exist, and allow us the readers to make up our minds. Most of what we are consuming is driven by views, and those views are blatantly partisan – either veering towards blind worship, or blind hatred. And, most of us gravitate towards the news that we instinctively find the most in synch with our own world view. A lot has been written about echo chambers , but associated with the problem of echo chamber is also the concept of fake news. Fake news works because those of us who live in echo chambers, believe it is plausibly true.
In the last year, there has been a growing awareness of the phenomenon of ‘fake news’. While the fake news means different things to different people, and has become a convenient brush to tar views one disagrees with, at its core fake news is based on lies. For example, one of the most famous lies in the recently concluded US elections was that Democratic Candidate, Hillary Clinton, was running a child abuse ring from a pizza outlet. Popularly termed #Pizzagate, the accusation went viral, and was believed, by enough number of people. Evidence or proof did not matter, what mattered was their belief that this is the truth. The same is the case here. On Sunday, a Pakistani handle posted a picture of a structure on fire, and claimed it was that of a mosque burning in Allahabad. It turned out to be a picture from Mayanmar. While there were several people who pointed out this simply didn’t happen, there were possibly enough people who believed him. Because this is the kind of behaviour they expect from the new government, and the news confirmed their existing biases and fears.
News is now, less about facts, and more about beliefs that something may be true. The Oxford University Dictionary, declared post truth to be the phrase
of the year and said, it is “an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’.
We believe things, not because we have read the facts and come to the conclusion that it is the truth, but because we listen to emotional appeals on why it might be true. It is the classic Bollywood mother trope, where the mother tells the judge that her son is innocent, because the mother’s heart says it is innocent; and the judge, in true Bollywood style, leaves aside the evidence to pronounce the man innocent. And, here this columnist is less sure about whether this scene was actually scripted an enacted in a Hindi film, but her heart tells her that this, very likely could have been a scene in a film.
So, the big question for all of us is how do we get to know the truth, in a world where everyone with a smart phone is a potential broadcaster, albeit to audiences of different sizes? Is it upon us, the reader to sit and verify everything that we read and see? What can we do to prevent ourselves from being fooled?
The first thing, is to wait before sharing all pieces of shocking news. The more shocking/wonderful the news is, the more likely it is to be false. The whatsapp forward making the rounds over the weekend spoke about the government move to make a 30% year on year salary increase compulsory. Wishful thinking, but most likely untrue. Just as the news of the mosque burning was a fake. Secondly, when you find a piece of news to be fake, do tell people in your social groups it is fake. It may make them be more careful while sharing content. And finally, consume news from various sources, even on social media. Try and see if they can be sources with different biases from your own. The truth is somewhere between the source you read, and the other sources. And, it really doesn’t matter if you read left, right, or centre sources – if you stick to one source, you are likely to get only one side of the narrative, and that, can be at best, a partial truth.