Friday, 23 March 2018


Fake news is news, stories or hoaxes created to deliberately misinform or deceive readers. There are three elements to fake news; ‘Mistrust, misinformation and manipulation’.
Usually, these stories are created to influence people’s views, push a political agenda or cause confusion and can often be a profitable business for online publishers. Fake news stories can deceive people by looking like trusted websites or using similar names and web addresses to reputable news organizations.

As a rough guide, a Google News search of "fake news" throws up 5 million results, and already in 2018 the phrase has been used about two million times on Twitter. Clearly the enabler of the modern form of "fake news" - or, if you like, misinformation - has been the explosive growth of social media. Facebook, Twitter and now WhatsApp are fertile media for its unhindered propagation and in India we have seen that this can result in social unrest, havoc, confusion, communal disharmony and death.

Craig Silverman, the media editor of ‘Buzzfeed’ in  mid-2016, noticed a funny stream of completely made-up stories that seemed to originate from one small Eastern European town. Curious to know more about this his people ended up finding a small cluster of news websites all registered in the same town in Macedonia called Veles which were hatching these news feeds. They identified at least 140 fake news websites which were pulling in huge numbers on Facebook shortly before the US election.

The young people in Veles may or may not have had much interest in American politics, but because of the money to be made via Facebook advertising, they wanted their fiction to travel widely on social media. The US presidential election - and specifically Donald Trump - was (and of course still is) a very hot topic on social media and the city was getting rich by fake news!
And so the Macedonians and other purveyors of fakery wrote stories with headlines such as "Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump for President" and "FBI Agent Suspected in Hillary Email Leaks Found Dead in Apparent Murder-Suicide". They were completely false. And thus began the modern - and internet-friendly - life of the phrase "fake news".

Misinformation, spin, lies and deceit have of course been around in the in internet forever. The 2014 General Elections in India which saw the demise of Congress and the resurgence of BJP also witnessed a social media war between the right wing aggressors and the left wing defenders, the latter eventually losing ground and power.  But in the 2016 American elections a unique marriage between social media algorithms, advertising systems, and people prepared to make stuff up to earn some easy cash and an election that gripped the oldest democracy and much of the world all provided a heady mix and fertile soil for Fake News to germinate.

Types of Fake News
1. Clickbait
These are stories that are deliberately fabricated to gain more website visitors and increase advertising revenue for websites. Clickbait stories use sensationalist headlines to grab attention and drive traffic to the publisher website, which is paying money for the same, normally at the expense of truth or accuracy.
2. Propaganda
Stories that are created to deliberately mislead audiences, promote a biased point of view or particular political cause or agenda. The elections in India and America and the Brexit referendum fell victim to these and agencies like Cambridge Analytica harvested personal likes and dislikes from people’s social website footprints and then launched information warfare to mould their political persuasions.
3. Satire/Parody
Lots of websites and social media accounts publish fake news stories for entertainment and parody. Rahul Gandhi and Donald Trump are made to look like flustering clowns  with subnormal intelligence by many such websites.
4. Sloppy and Irresponsible Journalism
Sometimes reporters or journalists may publish a story with unreliable information or without checking all of the facts which can mislead audiences. The “story” of ‘Fatwa in Saudi Arabia that men can eat their wives if hungry’ was carried by India Today’s Hindi channel had its origins in a satirical column by a Moroccan blogger. The less said about this so-called newsbreak the better but it does leave us wondering about the motives of Aaj Tak behind circulating such obviously fake stories. 
5. Misleading Headings
Stories that are not completely false can be distorted using misleading or sensationalist headlines. These types of news can spread quickly on social media sites where only headlines and small snippets of the full article are displayed on audience newsfeeds. Zee News screamed ‘President Kovind gaining three million followers in the span of one hour’ without pausing to think if this was really possible. In reality, President Kovind had merely inherited the followers of President Mukherjee. Official Twitter accounts of the President, Vice President and various Ministries are considered digital assets that belong to the government. 
6. Biased/Slanted News
Many people are drawn to news or stories that confirm their own beliefs or biases and fake news can prey on these biases. Social media news feeds tend to display news and articles that they think we will like based on our personalised searches.

From where are you getting your News?
Many people now get news from social media sites and networks and often it can be difficult to tell whether stories are credible or not. Information overload and a general lack of understanding about how the internet works has also contributed to an increase in fake news or hoax stories. Social media sites can play a big part in increasing the reach of these types of stories. The economics of social media favour gossip, novelty, speed and “shareability” and the lack lustre show of the established media, who have to propagate their owner’s agenda and political views have resulted in creating a fertile soil for germination and growth of fake news. Otherwise why should the Times Now news reader scream “the caliphate has put a price on your faith” and then show a Rate card to convert Hindus - a Hindu Brahmin girl for five lakhs, for a Sikh Punjabi girl seven lakh, for a Gujarati Brahmin six lacks, Hindu Khastriya gal – four and a half lakhs, Hindu OBC/SC/ST – two lakhs, Buddhist girl – one and a half lakh, a Jain girl 3 lakh rupees, and so on and so forth!

In India Fake News can kill
Fake information builds fear psychosis among people and this adds to tension within communities, and, over the years, several people have lost lives because of false information and rumours. One such fake news report about child kidnappers in Jharkhand led to the lynching of seven people in May 2017. A mob went on a killing spree, three innocent men were beaten to death as the angry mob wrongly believed those men were human traffickers. In all seven people lost their lives in two separate incidences in a fury that was born on social media and based on falsified information that the killers received over Whats App messenger

How to spot fake news?
Not only simpletons but even highly-educated people can be duped by lies as well  but they can often be more stubborn when presented with information that challenges their views or their intelligence. There are a number of things to watch out for when evaluating content online.
1. Take a closer look
Check the source of the story, do you recognise the website? Is it a credible/reliable source? If you are unfamiliar with the site, look in the about section or find out more information about the author.
2. Look beyond the headline
Check the entire article, many fake news stories use sensationalist or shocking headlines to grab attention. Often the headlines of fake new stories are in all caps and use exclamation points.
3. Check other sources
Are other reputable news/media outlets reporting on the story? Are there any sources in the story? If so, check they are reliable or if they even exist!
4. Check the facts
Fake news stories often contain incorrect dates or altered timelines. It is also a good idea to check when the article was published, is it current or an old news story?
5. Check your biases
Are your own views or beliefs affecting your judgement of a news feature or report?
Is it a joke?
6. Satirical sites are popular online and sometimes it is not always clear whether a story is just a joke or parody… Check the website, is it known for satire or creating funny stories?

If you keep repeating a lie it becomes truth!
In the early days of Twitter, people would call it a 'self-cleaning oven', because yes there were falsehoods, but the community would quickly debunk them but now we're at a scale where if you add in automation and bots, that oven is overwhelmed. Today if you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. Congress is trying to make us believe that though all the loans were facilitated to Vijay Malya and Nirav Modi by their finance ministers Modi is responsible for their absconding beyond the reach of justice! Repetitive tweets and posts on a particular topic, or hashtag, are aimed at trending the related subject to the extent that it becomes a popular, believable narrative.

Fact checking sites
India is one of the biggest internet markets in the world, and one of the busiest manufacturer of fake news, but Indian society has also given birth to important initiatives to tackle the issue of false information. For instance, a news portal called The Quint has started a section called Webqoof that debunks fake news (it’s a pun in Hindi, as bewquf means “stupid”). Some grassroots, citizen-driven anti-fake news websites are: (1) Boom FactCheck (BFC), established by Govindraj Ethiraj, (2) Social Media Hoax Slayer (SMHS), started and run by Pankaj Jain, (3) Pratik Sinha’s Alt News and (4) initiated by Shammas Oliyath and Bal Krishn Birla. Snopes: Internationally we have PolitiFact:, Fact Check: and BBC Reality Check: which can come to your rescue.

Media is no longer passively consumed – it’s created, shared, liked, commented on, attacked and defended in all sorts of different ways by hundreds of millions of people. And the algorithms used by the most powerful tech companies –Google and Facebook in particular – are brilliantly designed to personalise and tailor these services to each user’s profile. While it is quite understandable for hapless individuals, prototyped by their Facebook profile, to fall prey to fake news specially targeted to psychographic type, how can mainstream media fall victim to these news items is beyond comprehension. The holy trinity of fake news comprises of mistrust, misinformation and manipulation, and this is exactly what the mainstream professional media needs to avoid. So are they being sloppy and incompetent or do they have an agenda and are being smart and greedy?

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