A twofold approach to win the war on misinformation

A twofold approach to win the war on misinformation

Social Media platforms have effectively taken the place of traditional information networks in India. Many times, false information, intentionally or unintentionally, gets transferred through social media that manipulates the beliefs of people towards a particular community, the government or some ongoing issue. Public opinion is the currency of democracy, and, therefore, vested interests cannot be allowed to hijack public opinion through the organized dissemination of information.

How spread of false information concerns us?

Lack of transparency and concentration of social-media by a few individuals
• Social media platforms are becoming the primary ground for public discourse over which a handful of people have inordinate control.
• Lack of transparency by social media platforms is one of the biggest hurdles to curb misinformation. When platforms have disclosed certain information, the data is often not presented in a manner that facilitates easy analysis.

Inadequate measures
• The social media platforms have failed to develop a coherent framework to stop misinformation.
• The absence of a uniform baseline approach, enforcement, and accountability vitiated the information ecosystem.
• Social media platforms have adopted design choices that have led to a mainstreaming of misinformation while allowing themselves to be weaponized by powerful vested interests for political and commercial benefit. The consequent free flow of disinformation, hate and targeted intimidation has led to real-world harm and degradation of democracy in India.
• Misinformation spread through social media applications has been linked to minority hate, entrenched social polarisation, vaccine hesitancy, and real-life violence.

Digital Media Illiteracy among Children
• The NEP 2020 is a missed opportunity to insert media literacy in the curriculum. Although, ‘digital literacy’ is mentioned once in the document, social media literacy is entirely neglected.
• This is a serious gap as social media is the primary source of students’ literacy.

What needs to be done?

Make laws that facilitates Transparency
• A framework which underlines to combat disinformation at scale must be built on the understanding that it is a political problem.
• Transparency and regulation need to be brought to bring governance of speech within the ambit of the democratic process. It is important to bring a comprehensive transparency law to compel relevant disclosures by platforms to facilitate action by a wider group of stakeholders. Such a law should include safeguards for user privacy since platforms are a repository of the private information of citizens.

Creating a regulatory body
• It is proposed to constitute a regulator with statutory powers to lay out broad processes for governance of speech, set transparency standards and audit platforms for compliance and advisory powers to develop perspective on key misinformation themes especially those with public policy implications.
• Such a body should be answerable to parliament and not the executive.
• Such a model will increase democratic contest by moving contested speech issues into the political sphere and facilitate transparency of powerful technology platforms.

Structural Reforms in Platforms
• Blanket immunity for platforms as “intermediaries” no longer makes sense since platforms are far more interventionist with user content. Therefore, platform accountability should be linked to their distribution model.
• In this regime, platforms would either adopt a hands-off approach to content and constrain distribution to organic reach (chronological feed); or exercise editorial choice and take responsibility for amplified content.
• Also, Platforms must be mandated to default to a chronological feed, allowing users to make an informed choice to opt-in for a curated feed.

Digital media literacy among children
• A strategy that has not received sufficient attention in India is digital media literacy to the citizens, especially school children, to equip them with skills to steer through the information they receive.
• Therefore, technological interventions to tackle misinformation should be complemented with human-centric solutions focused on digital media literacy. Social media platforms must take initiatives in this regard and promote digital media literacy. 

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