q-misinformation-and-disinformation-spread-in-the-media-is-becoming-a-serious-social-challenge-and-is-leading-to-the-poisonous-atmosphere-on-the-web-that-has-grave-consequences-in-this-context-discuss

 

Q) Misinformation and disinformation spread in the media is becoming a serious social challenge and is leading to the poisonous atmosphere on the web that has grave consequences. In this context, discuss the causes for the spread of misinformation and the need for mechanisms to deal with them.

Why this Question?

Important part of GS Paper-II.

Key demand of the Question 

Explain the menace of fake news and misinformation and its causes in the country and discuss the need to have a mechanism to address the misinformation being caused due to fake news in the country.

Directive 

Discuss – This is an all-encompassing directive – you have to debate on paper by going through the details of the issues concerned by examining each one of them. You have to give reasons for both for and against arguments.

Introduction 

Define and explain what fake news is.

Body 

In the first part, analyse the causative factors that have led to spread of fake news in the country. Use examples.

In the next part, highlight the importance and urgency of having a mechanism to address the misinformation being caused due to fake news in the country due to the consequences it has.

Conclusion 

Conclude with a way forward.

Model Answer

Fake news or hoax news refers to false propaganda published under the guise of authentic news. It is deliberately cheated to misinform the readers. It can be propagated through any media: print, electronic and social.

Some examples of spread of fake news in India are:

  1. 2013- Fake video that fuelled communal passion led to communal riots in Muzaffarnagar.
  2. 2019- Rumours of child kidnapping led to mob lynching of a man in Jharkhand
  3. 2020- After more members of Tablighi Jamaat tested positive for COVID19, fake news was spread about Muslims deliberately spreading the virus.
  4. 2020- Fake news of COVID spreading through non-vegetarian food led to a boycott of meat traders.
  5. 2021- old videos and pictures of police using water cannons on protesters spread during the farmer protests

Causes of Spread of Fake News:

  1. Erosion of Media Ethics: News media is no longer seen as an arbitrator of the ‘real news’. Media is alleged to be an echo-chamber of the dominant political class.
  2. Social Media: Social media has decentralized the creation and propagation of fake news as it has a large user base.
  3. Polarization of society: Increasing divide in the society on ideological lines has made the job of spreading fake news easier.
  4. Lack of legislation: There are no explicit laws dealing with fake news in India.
  5. Confirmation Bias: Studies have confirmed that people don’t care about finding the ‘truth’ behind a news item and instead look for evidence to support their preferred narrative.
  6. There is a lack of mechanisms to verify any news item that is being forwarded.
  7. Credibility of source- sometimes these news items are shared by personalities that the general public idealize like actors, politicians, etc.

Measures Needed:

  1. Education and Awareness: The government must take the initiative to make all sections of the population aware of the realities of this information war and evolve a consensus to fight this war. It must also take strict action against the fake news providers.
  2. Strict Regulation: News being spread using chatbots and other automated pieces of software should automatically be selected for special screening.
  3. Bring out policy-: The government should bring out a draft seeking opinion from stakeholders regarding issues of controlling fake news. Any future guidelines on ‘fake news’ should target ‘fake news’ and not try to regulate the media in the name of ‘fake news’.
  4. Regulatory mechanism: The PCI needs to be reformed and empowered in a way so as to enable it to strike a balance between the freedom of media and speech on the one hand, and right to know on the other.
  5. Government should have independent agency: to verify the data being circulated in social and other media. The agency should be tasked with presenting real facts and figures.
  6. An ombudsman Institution: To receive complaints on fake news and initiate immediate action. 
  7. Accountability of Social Media: Social media websites should be made accountable for such activities so that it becomes their responsibility to have better control over the spread of fake news.
  8. Using Artificial Intelligence: The artificial intelligence technologies, particularly machine learning and natural language processing, might be leveraged to combat the fake news problem. AI technologies hold promise for significantly automating parts of the procedure human fact checkers use today to determine if a story is real or a hoax.

Fake news affects free speech and informed choices of citizens of the country, leading to the hijacking of democracy. Hence it is extremely important that there is a collective effort from all the stakeholders involved to tackle this menace comprehensively.