Social Media Virality and Manipulation of Voters
By Sonali Sharma
Political culture in India has been comprised of false allegations and accusations against the opponents to win the political battle not realising the impact it may have on the Voters and its subsequent Consequences. Political parties merely by using this strategy instigate the contentious Public sentiments for electoral Gains, which in turn has resulted into increased social Dissonance leading to hampering of Basic Democratic Principles. In the past few decades News consumption behaviour has changed with people relying less on the traditional sources of Information like Newspaper, TV etc and more on the contemporary sources like the social Media, thus making Voters more susceptible to the fake Information spreading Online. Both fabricated and fraudulent content goes viral through peer to peer communication. Thus prevalence of Fake news affects the increased misinformation and polarization in the society. With the 17th Lok-Sabha elections scheduled from April this year, there are increased incidents of Fake News that has a major Role to play in influencing the voters. As the prominent Indian Political Psychologist Ashis Nandy wrote in 1989 Paper on “ The Political Culture of the Indian State,” the modern Indian electoral “cycle became a sort of iron law in the early 1970s , when election came to depend more and more on the populist slogans and promises and when , through opinion engineering in mass media , the rise and fall of regimes and reputations began to be brought about and at times , stage – managed”.
FAKE NEWS SPREADING UP ONLINE
According to Collins Dictionary the concept of “fake news” started being used on US television to describe, “false, often sensational, information disseminated under the guise of news reporting”. Fake news or fabricated news is a type of Yellow Journalism or propaganda that consists of misinformation spread via social media or news channel. Mostly it involves eye-catching headlines that can easily manipulate the voters. With the increased use of social media the fake news has increased the chances of the spread of fake news, rumours, hoaxes etc, whatever name you may give them. The BBC Researchers interviewed 80 people in three countries- India, Nigeria, and Kenya – and over a seven day period, analysing their media consumption habits , and studying how they used Facebook and Whatsapp on their phones to share information, they found that respondents in all the three countries made a little effort to figure out the original source for what they shared. Thus people find it very difficult to draw a line between true News and faux news.
IMPACT OF POLITICAL DISINFORMATION CAMPAIGNS ON THE VOTE BANK
Unaware Voters those are not much acquainted with the knowhow of fake news fall trapped in this vicious circle of Political disinformation. Such Malicious Strategies would aggravate already existing Social Problems like Polarisation in the society, Religious Nationalism, Caste Politics and much more. Also the General masses are not well equipped and qualified to differentiate between what constitutes quality News and Faux News. It is not very difficult to spread up fake news and make people believe that the news is true, making the ill minded people to take advantage of the fact.
RUMOUR MONGERING TO VERTICAL DROP
With the Increased use of Social Media among different strata of the societies, people are High dependent upon the News that they receive while scrolling their Newsfeeds mainly on the Facebook, whatsapp or other social Media apps which does not carry any Authenticity of the News they are circulating. There is a lack of any kind of credibility, people usually don’t give a second thought while sharing or forwarding the faux news and thus it spreads like Fire. Not even this, the headlines with which they are circulated are much more interesting and Eye-catching thus making it tempting for the readers to circulate them. Even the Intellectuals and politically sophisticated people sometimes find themselves incapable of distinguishing Fake News and true News.
FAKE NEWS IGNITES RELIGIOUS POLARIZATION
Not only this Fake News encourages perilous relations among the Members of different Religious Groups and Societies, thus dividing the society on the basis of Religion which a clear cut example of Vote Bank Politics. Fake News is a Political Contrivance to mislead people. It has caused Feud between different Groups resulting into Many People being killed without any fault. This trend of online Doctrinal Segregation is highly hazardous. Fake News dissipates religious disharmony thus taking the lives of innocent youths merely for a political Agenda to collect votes in the name of Religion. Many times we see that people of a particular religion or community are getting killed and murdered mainly of the political feud spread up on the social media platforms which are mainly fake.
MANIPULATION OF VOTERS AND GENESIS OF PUBLIC - OPINION
Political Parties are having upper hand in swaying the unaware voters in the context of Fake News. The main motive of the fake news spreaders is to gather votes for one party and to degrade the reputation of other party. Thus innocent voters get easily involved in the vicious circle of these fake news that they form their public opinion accordingly, and without thinking much and knowing about the credibility of news they gather and they vote accordingly. Fake news has a major part to play in the decision making process.
ACCOUNTABILITY OF THE CANDIDATES
With the increased social Media set up the candidates fighting the elections are more answerable and accountable to the voters. The moment people come to know that so and so news is faux, they immediately Troll or parade the candidates or the politicians and the vote bank can be largely affected by this. Thus politicians cannot run from their liability so easily they have to be accessible and accountable to the news they spread and its accountability. Image of a politician is any time at risk and can be destroyed in minutes mainly die the spread of fake news , due to which sometimes many honest and non-corrupt politicians get involved in the controversy they have nothing to do with , which can easily defame them and the Propaganda of the conspirators win. Also the candidates have to act vigilant all the time and keep a check on any kind of fake news being circulated about their party .
FASTER AND BROADER DIFFUSION OF MISINFORMATION
A comprehensive investigation of the spread of true and false news in Twitter also showed that False News is characterized by a faster and broader diffusion that true News mainly due to the attraction of the novelty of False news. It is very much evident nowadays how these kinds of news are spreading with people being specially paid to spread such hoaxes.
ROLE OF MEDIA IN ALTERING THE OUTCOME OF ELECTIONS
“Social Media has created a whirlpool of misinformation that continues to create unwelcome ripples across India”. Media being the 4th Pillar in a democratic state like India. Social Media has changed the way how the campaigns are taken over and how politics is being run. Thus both the fake news and true news has an everlasting impact on the readers and viewers. Social Media has direct link with the voters who spend much time on their social Media Apps where Faux News is spread like fire. Politicians nowadays have a direct communication setup with the voters and without even spending hefty amount on campaigns the news which they spread regardless of the fact whether it is true or faux.
Campaigns go viral so easily on the Social Media that merely by clicking a simple button of share on facebook, any kind of news without any authenticity spread so easily and it is hard for the users to identify true news.
All the like -minded people with similar Political Views join their hands on the social Media platforms through pages etc and gather votes for their respective parties and by looking at the strength of the people, an ordinary person gets easily wooed by that news. Social Media has completely changed the way Politicians communicate with the masses, the manner in which the elections are fought and the operation of Government institutions. New Media can directly disseminate the information without any kind of filter on the news it spreads, thus has resulted into increased instability and unpredictability in the political scenario.
FEW RECENT INSTANCES OF FAKE NEWS SPREADUP AND ITS ILL EFFECTS
The recent instance was during the demonetization in our country when there was a rumour spread by some ill minded people that there was a GPS chip on the new Rs2000 currency notes , which RBI cleared later on that there was no such advanced feature introduce at all. In the absence of proper verification system of fake news and people become the victims of this easily.
Fake news has also got lot of limelight during the U.S presidential Elections, which helped getting Donald Trump elected, there are unanticipated ways by which the fake news can impact political Situation , thus redefining the role of social Media , journalists and the way elections are contested. Thus, Recent social and political events such as the 2016 US presidential election, has witnessed the increased Frequency of so called Fake News i.e. Fabricated news ,while Misinformation and propaganda have existed since ancient times, which is not a new phenomena.
IDEOLOGICAL MOTIVATION BEHIND THE SPREAD OF POLITICAL DISINFORMATION
There is mainly malicious intention behind the spread of fake news online which mainly involves increasing the readership of the site or blog etc sharing the misinformation Or else it may involve Ideological motivation for political agenda which may involve motives like defaming the political candidates for with intention of injuring their reputation among the General Public thus shaping the opinions of the voters.
FOLLOWING JOURNALISTIC ETHICS: AN IMPORTANT STEP
In order to curb the spreading of these rampant fake News , journalist should follow their Ethics while publishing or Circulating any kind of News in order to prevent the dissemination of any kind of Hoax news that may insanely affect the Voters . In a Country like India with a Major Illiteracy Rates its much easy to sway the readers or viewers with false news which should not be the case. Journalist should stick to their Journalistic Ethics and Norms
Research by the BBC has shown that nearly 72% of Indians struggled to distinguish between real information from made-up stories. There is an urgent need of increasing Greater Digital Literacy Rates among the General Population of our country so that people do not easily believe the made up stories and could exercise their right to vote without being concealed or exposed to any kind of misinformation that would impact the political scenario in our country. The government we choose should be won from the clarity of its ideology not by unaware voters voting the wrong party for its Fake news spread up about its accomplishments, aims and objectives. fake news has resulted into the loss of confidence of voters over the electoral system and thus leading to the hampering of the basic democratic principles of governance , there is a dire need to rebuild this confidence among the voters by filtering the news that are spread up through legal organizations and other regulatory measures . There is a need to enact specific legislations and provisions in order to curb the spreading fake news which is utterly harmful for the General Masses. Also people must be taught through awareness campaigns how to make up the difference between true news and false news. All these Measures can help us to build a healthy political culture.
 Juhi ahuja , “Fake News and India’s Democracy”, available at: http://thediplomat.com/2018/06/fake-news-and-indias-democracy/ (visited on March 25, 2019).
 Maria Thomas, “Ordinary Indians are fuelling the country’s Fake-news crisis”, available at: https://www.google.com/amp/s/qz.com/india/1459818/bbc-study-shows-how-indians-spread-fake-news/( visited on March 27, 2019).
 Vosoughi, s. , Roy, D. & Aral, S. , The spread of True and false news online. science 359, 1146-1151(2018)
 Allcott, H. & Gentzkow, M, “Social Media and Fake News in the 2016 Election”, (National Bureau of Economic Research, Cambridge, MA , 2017).
 Soll & J., “The long and brutal history of fake news politico”, available at: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/12/fake-news-history-long-violent-214535(visited on March 25, 2019).