What is Fake News?

Simply put, it is the creation or distortion, and dissemination, of incorrect information to the public at large, often with malafide intentions. The recent incidents of lynching deaths over mass-circulated messages and videos of child kidnapping over social platforms is perhaps the most extreme effect of fake news.

But first, it is important to understand a couple of basic concepts. Most newspapers or websites or channels have two broad categories: news and opinion. While opinion refers to the publication of personal views held by individuals, the news operation is bound by certain rules. The first generally accepted rule of journalistic reporting is that an article must stick, as much as possible, to verifiable facts. This eliminates the fear of bias or slant in the news, as well as chance for the writer’s personal opinions to colour the article.

In today’s world, information plays an outsize role in our lives, especially in helping us form opinions about the world. Therefore, it is even more essential that the information we receive is authentic and reliable. Else, we run the risk of forming misinformed, and therefore skewed, opinion about issues that are important to us. This is why it is critical to spot and debunk fake news

Most news media follow the rule of using their own reporters to first verify facts before publication or airing. But creators of fake news have no such compulsions or ethics.

For decades, this has been the basic gold standard for most media houses. And it was a model that readers and viewers implicitly trusted.

Over the past few years, however, with the proliferation of internet access and social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, the established rules of engagement for media houses have been superseded by the ability of individuals to post and distribute information that has not been vetted or verified. Suddenly, everyone was free to say whatever they wanted, regardless of its veracity. Soon enough, there was a proliferation of information that had no basis in fact, passed around as truth and virtually untraceable to its creator. This anonymity has served troublemakers well, since it allows them to distribute outright false news and pass it off as fact. This expansion of false information is what is generically referred to as Fake News.

Of late, there has been an explosion of such information across India, some of which has led to the deaths of innocent people. In many cases, the information is intended to merely create a public scare, such as about some medicine or some seasonal infection, or even about the food we eat. In other cases, the intent is much more dangerous, and can have severe and long-lasting impact on a variety of things, such as inter-faith communal harmony, caste relations, electoral processes, political standing of individuals, and in extreme cases, even the structures upon which democracies are built.

Broadly speaking, fake news can be broken down into two categories: Malicious and Non-Malicious. Note, there is no innocuous category because fake news is by definition deliberate and intended to change someone’s opinion about something.

The malicious kind has more far-reaching repercussions for the health of our society and nation at large, and can lead to a breakdown in law-and-order in pockets or even nationally, as we have seen in the mob lynching cases. Worse, it can also lead to severe polarisation between groups or communities, a problem that can quickly and easily escalate to a national level if not checked in time. These videos are often fake and/or doctored with a deliberate intent to provoke hatred between groups. Often, videos of some completely unrelated event, occasionally from foreign countries, are doctored and passed off as having taken place in India with the clear intent to deepen divisions within Indian society.

The non-malicious kind is far more common, and includes false information about food habits, medicines, civic infrastructure and so on and so forth. Often, it also includes fake videos or photos of one place or incident and tries to pass it off as having occurred somewhere else. This kind of news typically travels passed along known networks, such as friends, family, or old school groups and sometimes among professional groups, usually on social media platforms such as WhatsApp or Facebook. Unfortunately, this also lends it some believability, since it comes from known persons instead of being a mass mailer or a blind forward.

(NOTE: This sometimes can also be malicious, especially during natural disasters or major accidents, with the intention of spreading rumours and spreading panic).

This site is an attempt to provide means and tools to identify and spot fake news and to provide a hands-on tutorial to verify such news by individuals.

Of late, there has been an explosion of such information across India, some of which has led to the deaths of innocent people.

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