Fake News

Fake News
 

News: Top social media platforms including Meta and Google have sent a proposal to the Centre detailing their
plans to create a network of fact-checkers who will verify dubious content posted on their platforms.
 

Background:
 The network, being billed as the ‘Misinformation Combat Alliance’, is expected to be joined by major social media platforms.
 Recently, the government also proposed to setup its own fact checking unit to curb fake news and misinformation on social media.
 Also, last month, a malicious misinformation campaign led to law and order issues in Tamil Nadu, where false claims
about violence against migrant workers from Bihar were propagated through social media.
 In this context, we will discuss about fake news, its impact and what efforts are being made to address the issue.
 

What are Fake news?
 Fake news is information that is clearly and demonstrably fabricated and that has been packaged and distributed to appear as legitimate news.
 Fake news overlaps with other information disorders, such as misinformation (false or misleading information) and disinformation (false information that is purposely spread to deceive people).”

What are factors that contribute to spread of Fake news in India?
 Rise of Social media platforms
 Dearth of Media literacy skills which makes them more susceptible to both believing and sharing fake news
 Priority given to sensationalism rather than truth/accuracy by few media outlets
 Financial incentives given to spread fake news
 Lack of effort by individuals to fact-check or cross-verify content before sharing it to other people
 India’s political landscape is highly polarized which is a factor as well

Impact of Fake news:
 Spread of false and misleading information often create panic and fear amongst people in society. For example, multiple fake news shared regarding closure of banks and people panic believing it to be true and bringing home their deposits. In 2019, RBI had slammed social media platforms for allowing such fake news to be circulated on their platforms.
 It erodes trust in institutions and creates confusion among public. For example, the false claim that the COVID-19 vaccine causes infertility in women.
 Fake news affects the spirit of common brotherhood and increases intolerance in the country. For example, a mass exodus of NorthEasterners from Bangalore in 2012 was based on false online threats. 
 It fuels communal tensions and can create political polarization by reinforcing biases and promoting one-sided views of certain events.
 Fake news can have an economic impact, particularly on businesses or industries that are targeted by false information.
 Fake news over prescriptions of certain medicines during Covid-19 prompted people to often use unsafe or ineffective medicines which had adverse impact on health of people.
 

What are remedies available for controlling fake news?
 The Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000 provides for penalties for publishing or transmitting obscene or defamatory material on the internet, including fake news.
 Article 51A (h) of the Constitution, which states that “It shall be the duty of every citizen to develop the scientific temper, humanism, and spirit of inquiry and reform” offers a long-term solution.
 Fact-checking organisations have come up in India to combat menace of fake news. The PIB had launched its own Fact-checking unit in 2019 to combat fake news.
 Several Indian cities have established cybercrime cells that investigate cases related to fake news and other forms of cybercrime.

 The Disaster Management Act 2005 and the Epidemic Diseases Act 1897 helped (especially during Covid-19) regulate the circulation of fake news or rumours that can cause panic among citizens.
 The recent amendment to IT Rules introduces the creation of fact-check bodies to identify whether information related to the Central government is accurate or not.
 The European Union (EU) has implemented a Code of Practice on Disinformation. This includes measures like transparency in political advertising, support for fact-checkers and researchers, tools to identify disinformation, and measures to reduce manipulative behaviour.
 

What steps can be taken to curb Fake news?
 Media literacy programs can be promoted to help distinguish between reliable and unreliable news content.
 Social media platforms should take responsibility for preventing the spread of fake news on their platforms.
 Promote websites that work exclusively on fact checking and accuracy of news stories.
 Provision of stringent penalties on those who promote fake news.
 Sometimes, people themselves must take the lead and check/verify news content without inherent bias. At times, reporting/flagging incorrect videos, news content can also help. For example, on twitter you can report accounts that share fake news and Twitter also replies upon taking actions. 

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