APB Blog : Fake news on the rise: Here’s what you can do

Fake News

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.

Review : The Millennials: Exploring the World of the Largest Living Generation

The Millennials

The Millennials – a generation that seems to perplex everyone, in terms of their attitudes, behaviour, consumption patterns, and work ethos. Over the last few years, I have been keeping abreast of a tome of literature from across sources – academic papers, marketing reports, psychology studies, documentaries, raw data (when it was available), and more – just to get a handle on it.  The more I read, the more i get the sense that they are the same  adjectives used about my generation, when we first entered the workforce in a newly liberalised India. Within a few years of joining the workforce, we were earning more than our parents (invariably government employees); we spent like the currency was going to be demonetised the following weekend; we changed jobs like crazy, we married late (and it was cool not be married too); we were more open about sexuality, and relationships; and, friends were the new family.

But, there are two major differences between a post liberalisation generation, and the one that entered the workforce 20 years later, is the reliance on technology; We were much more the physical human network generation; this one is more the ‘lives in the social network’ bubble. The second is, the earlier generation was more focused on career, this one is focused more on experiences.

Despite the changes in the economy over the last two and half decades, there is very little source material, apart from newspaper and magazine articles, on the millennial generation in India, and how they deal with the workplace, or even the market place. Much of what exists is the extrapolation of western studies to draw conclusions on Indian millennial. There was a really good study, a few years ago, by JWT that looked at Millinneal attitudes in BRICS countries, but studies like the one’s PEW conducts for the US market on a regular basis, are few and far between. I have been gleaning my information by reading sector reports.

The Millennials: Exploring the World of the Largest Living Generation by Subramanian S Kalpathi does address some of those gaps, especially those concerning the attitudes of millennials at the workplace. Looking at a variety of organisational eco systems – from an Ola to a Maker’s Asylum – the book looks at how to deal with a generation that seems to want to walk it’s own path, at the same time as get paid for it. The book looks at the various kinds of motivations that may inspire the millennial, and very little of it seems to be money for the sake of money. The generation seems to be looking for a whole bunch of other intangibles including belonging and purpose.

As i  began reading the book, i began asking a simple question – at a management level, we look at very precise metrics. How much productivity, how much output, how much revenue – all of which are needed. We set KRA’s and KPI’s on the basis of this. The big question is that, for a generation that is not driven by the tangible, how do you measure and motivate a new workforce. Money is a standard, and is expected as a pure hygiene factor. Lack of it can demotivate, but in itself it guarantees nothing. What motivates are the other ‘intangible’ factors. How do you define and measure those.

How do you balance out issues such as discipline and freedom – i remember having rows on this with HR, when i was a newcomer into the workforce. How do you look at varied experience as opposed to a steady growth path, and how do you balance out organisational objectives, with personal growth. It is going to be interesting to look at this in a world where jobs are getting more insecure; and protectionist. This generation is the largest generation, not just in India but across the world. Maybe, you should just let them organise themselves to deliver broadly defined goals, while our generation plays mentor rather than manager.

The book is definitely worth reading. I am hoping the author will update case studies every two years 🙂

You can buy the book here.

 

 

Kangana Ranaut v/s Karan Johar

My twitter TL bubbles over with Kangana Ranaut and Karan Johar ping pong. She said, he said, she said, columnists said, anchors said. Lots of people with lots of views.

Honestly, i couldn’t be bothered, except to say one thing. If you keep lashing out, someone one day will lash back. It just happened to be Karan Johar.

And, in this sort of a completely juvenile fight, gender doesn’t matter – power relationships do. Is a producer or a head of a studio more powerful than an actor – absolutely. But, that would be the case whether it was Ekta Kapoor or Karan Johar.

Does an actor have no power – they do, till they top the box office. But, and this is being brutally honest, Female actors come with a faster expiry date than male actors – and it is as much a function of the box office (ie, moviegoers – you and I) as it is of the industry.

Is there nepotism in the Industry! Man, it is all about the family network. All the big producers are related – by blood. But, it is also a business – if you had no talent, and your films tank, even daddy (or mommy ) will not continue putting good money after bad. Is it easy for outsiders to break in – No. It takes a few years to get to know people. No one is going to invest the upwards of a few crores on a complete stranger. But, enough outsiders have broken in. Do star kids have it easy ? Yes, they can go to uncle and aunty (people they have known since they were toddlers) to cast them. But, this is the nature of the business. Personal networks are important, as is industry goodwill.

Finally – no one in the industry makes it without help from the system. Someone casts you, someone grooms you, someone trains you, some one recommends you. It is a small industry with a lot of word of mouth goodwill. People are more likely to recommend you if you are good to work with and good at what you do, than one or the other. It is not as bad as she makes it out to be, it is not as easy as he makes it out to be.

 

Kangana Ranaut v/s Karan Johar

Youtube : A billion hours a day, of video watched

… on one single platform.

The Youtube official blog, announced it today/yesterday (depending on your timezone).

“last year, we hit a big milestone on that journey: people around the world are now watching a billion hours of YouTube’s incredible content every single day!
Let’s put that in perspective. If you were to sit and watch a billion hours of YouTube, it would take you over 100,000 years. 100,000 years ago, our ancestors were crafting stone tools and migrating out of Africa while mammoths and mastodons roamed the Earth.”

That is a phenomenal amount of content consumed. you are looking at an average of 2.5 hours per user . Assuming 4 billion people on the net, all of them consuming everyday. We all know that the number of users is likely to be far lower. Given, that many of the videos’ are shorts (under 10 minutes), you are talking about a lot of viewing.

Last year, while researching how much content was being create on the interwebs, and the various kinds of content that was being created – for something i was working on _ i came across this.

Youtube Video Content

 

it is awesome, and awe inspiring. It also tells you the sheer amounts of potential information overload we all face, if we even consumed a fraction of it. And, yet we do.

It is the same case with the real world. Michael Bhaskar, in his book Curation: The power of selection in a world of excess points out

a study from UCLA’s Center on the Everyday Lives of Families. Their report, Life at Home in the 21st Century, found a state of ‘material saturation’ in the lives of the families they worked with. They had, on average, 139 toys, 438 books and magazines and 39 pairs of shoes each.3 Even the smallest home in the study had over 2,260 items in three rooms. They concluded that Americans are living amidst ‘extraordinary clutter’. Stuffocation even manifests itself physiologically – the more clutter people, especially women, had, the higher their stress levels. All that resource and productivity of the Boom and, after a certain point, all it does is stress us out.

I haven’t seen such a study in India, but i know it applies here too (for many of us). Yes, we do have a first world problem, we have too much. i notice it everytime i clean out the cupboard, the stuff inside intimidates me to such a level, i put it all back and run away. But, the fact remains, I know my life will be less cluttered if I got rid of 70% of all the things I own, and no longer use.

While the overload in the real world is high, it is nothing compared to the overload we face online. It is just very easy to while away hours at a go, on random content consumption. Whether it is “window shopping” on an e-commerce site, or checking out new videos on Youtube; be it catching up with friends on FB, or figuring who is burning what on twitter. I am not even adding activities like viewing structured entertainment on an Amazon Prime or a Nextflix; or even conventional linear TV. Just digital. And, India has not yet seriously begun adding to the content glut on line.

Right now, without India being fully unleashed digitally, there are 400 hours of new video every minute, close to 10,000 hours of new video every day. 3.6 million hours of video every year. And, that is only one platform. There is of course, something for everyone, if only they can find it 🙂

#Raees – A Brief Review

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First day, first show – first time ever (i think) in my life ….

Raees tells the Icarus  like rise and fall from grace of Raees Alam, the son of a bangarwaali (scrap seller is the nearest English word i could find). Raees is brought up in the late 70’s era in Fatehpura (Gujarat) by his mother (a fantastic cameo by Sheeba Chaddha ), with a one point philosophy,”koi dhanda chota nahi hota aur dhande se bada koi dharm nahi hota‘.  It is a line that helps her maintain her dignity even when a policeman tries to intimidate her, in the aftermath of a anti liquor raid that has failed. Raees grows up from being a school kid who transports liquor in his school bag, to being one of the major players in the Gujarat underworld. In his rise to the top, he is chased by honest cop Jaideep Ambalal Majmudar (Nawazuddin Siddiqi); and it is this, almost erotic, relationship that is the lynch-pin of the film. the scenes with the two of them are the best, and the  screen crackles with energy with they are playing off each other.

This is a plot we have seen before. Man comes from humble beginnings and becomes a ‘Godfather’. A don, but a savior of his community. Afoul of the law, but friends with lawmakers. There is a certain ambivalence in the morality. But, you root for the man who is, technically, the villain. This is Godfather, both 1 &2, Nayakan, Deewar, Shakti, Ganga Jamuna, Dalapati – and, the theme itself is fascinating. What happens to a ‘good’ man aligned with the wrong side. None of the central characters in the films mentioned above, got to the top without blood shed. The blood shed, and often public blood shed, is what builds the fear, the authority, the power base. And, the brutality at one end, is compensated with compassion for ‘my people’ at the other. And, Raees is a god father of the old kind. Although participation in community religious activities is part of his ethos, and the Shia Muslim part of him is part and parcel of the character, (the matam in the begining, is brilliantly shot)the only time you see him praying (as a one on one communication with a higher power)  is at his mother’s grave. And, I find that aspect quite fascinating. In a way it is a throw back to films of an older generation – with the mother as the moral core (Mother India, Deewar ) of the family, as well as the full fledged participation and festivities that bring communities together – and the community is the community of the labour class.

But, if the plot is as old as  films, the story of Raees Alam is new. The nuances of the character, the setting (Gujarat that is gritty, bleak, and with an underlying sense of dry humour), and the revival of a dynamic, and a segment that has not been seen in main stream Hindi films for long,  the pan religious working class/labour class – where poverty unites more than religion divides. This is a dynamic most of us growing up in the 70’s and 80’s saw in movies. One of the things that director Rahul Dolakhia does very well, is create the 80’s vibe – be it in terms of music on radio, or Laila mein Laila featured on a caberet dancer (Sunny Leone), or the characterisations of various characters in the film. The references are real, and give the film a context of time and space. When Raees Alam is beating up a seth into agreeing to pay the dues of his millworkers, there is a hat tip to the greatest film on labour issues in modern India, Kala Patthar. The other thing that Dolakhia does well is visually narrate the scenes in which Rais stamps down on someone who has crossed into his territory. The machismo posturing, the sheer outpouring of testosterone, and the rapid spiral downwards to a a scenario that is going to blow. The scenes that bring out the sheer single focued ruthless brutality of Raees are built up the best, and shot the best. The fight sequence in the abattoir, the scene where he goes to kill his mentor (Atul Kulkarni in another fine cameo), the riot scene, and the show down with Musa (Narendra Jha) are very well done.

Shah Rukh carries the film. Raees Alam is is brutal, ruthless, and a cold blooded killer. And, yet you feel for the character. I predict he is going to bring the pathan suit, kohled eyes, and banyans back into fashion. The man oozes screen presence, and in this film you don’t see too much of the superstar, just the actor. Nawaz is good, completely understated, and has some of the best lines in the film. Mahira – is seriously underwhelming. She just seems so overawed by being in a film, that she never manages to break out of the tv actor mode. Zeeshan is a good support role, but you wished that the writers had bothered to give him something beyond being a good friend. And, I think that this is the problem with the film – Dolakhia tries to cram too many themes, and too many interesting characters,  into a two and a half hour film, and none of them is ever explored with any nuance. This could have been a 10 hour narcos kind of series, but, i am nto sure that it would be a commercially viable project. But, the acting, the characters, and the editing, s the film tightly paced – though the pace drops in the second half, when the film focuses more on the ‘god father’ part of Raees, and less on the ruthless rise to the top of the crime pyramid. There is an inexplicable pregnancy that seems to go on for ever, and for ever. And, the purpose of both Mahira and the pregnancy, seems to be to build the human side of rather ruthless killer.

Is it worth a watch – definitely. I am possibly going back to watch it again, next week.