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Digital Media: A Way To Information or Misinformation?

Digital Media: A Way To Information or Misinformation?

By Suravi Paul

Standing in the era of developing informational technology we are not only citizens of our nations but also netizens of a global family. Our opinions play a crucial role in the nation building process. Henceforth what we hear, what we follow and what kind of information we are exposed to will have a greater impact on our polities.

Our access to information before the advent of digital platforms, which emerged with the advent of the 21st century, were mostly restricted to print media. In the midst of the great advancements, digital media has brought in the lives of the people a new threatening phase of “misinformation or fake news’ also began. While many of us did not know what these  term meant four to five years ago, aided through social media platforms it is now posing greater threat to emerging democracies, freedom of press, open debates, and opening challenges to nations around the globe to come out with solutions to effectively deal with it . While the advent of digital media has only increased the efficiency through which misinformation is circulated, its prevalence dates back to the Roman times, [1]when Octavian the adopted son of Juliar Caeser used fake news as a tool to defame Antony’s reputation to become the first emperor of Rome. One of such remembered incident due to which a new era of fact checking in media publication began is the Great Moan Hoax of 1835. [2] In order to grab the attention of the audience The New York Sun published sensational false stories. On 25th of August 1835, it published six articles, which elaborated on the existence of life on Moon, which was notified to be discovered by Sir John Herschel through a telescope, which had the ability to see with greater clarity due to its second lens hydro oxygen microscope, which allowed further magnification. However, later on it was proved a bluff to grab the attention of the audience and increase sales of the company. This practice was again restarted during 1890’s and was named as ‘yellow journalism’. Rival newspapers competing over audience presented facts in the form of sensational stories to deceive people of it being true. This news even led the US to Spanish-American War of 1898. [3] However, with growing awareness about the lack of journalist integrity this practice ended until the new era of digital sources drastically marked its return.

These types of news mostly based on false content or misleading facts is used to spur ideological sentiments having great impact in the political, social, and economic well-being of the people. Henceforth, in order to identify a fake content, it is being categorised into five categories[4]. These mostly include Satire or Parody, making False Connections of two unrelated events, misleading content, intentionally deceptive false content mostly used in case of statistical data, fabricated content and most importantly imposter content mostly spreaded by quoting false statements by famous personalities that in reality have never been stated.

While this new era of misinformation in a long term may affect the overall health of the nation, recent trends show that it has affected political arena the most. Citizens being a part of the nation building process, Politics is intrinsically intertwined with their lives. While the term politics on one hand has always been assigned a negative definition, on the other hand it is the sole guiding force responsible for governing us and promoting our welfare. We as responsible citizens it is our duty to ourselves aware of the political situations in the country. Since, centuries print media has carried forward this job of informing citizens about the functioning of the governments, criticizing and promoting welfare policies, providing information crucial in making opinions about leadership, providing a platform for expression of opinions through debates. The onset of the digital era is observed doing the greater portion of this job. Being an easier tool to reach vast majority of the population people from all the sectors not excluding politicians have used it as an effective means to reach out to people. Recent trends around the globe shows that politicians use social media as a tool for election promotion.[5] Henceforth any information that is shared requires authenticity and verification as it will have a direct impact on the proper functioning of a nation.

This distressing impact of fake news on politics came into light with the ‘Cambridge Analytical Scandal’ during U.S Presidential election of 2016. Cambridge Analytica is a British data firm. One of its owner is Robert Mercer who also donated funds to the Republican Party to which President Trump Belonged. This company is claimed to have hacked the data of 50 million users of Facebook [6]during the election campaigns, which was then used to select voters providing them with fake stories and pro- trump advertisements, [7]which is supposed to have greatly contributed Trumps victory. In order to hack the data it has studied personality attributes of different individuals with the help of a quiz called ‘thisisyourdigitallife’[8]. Fake news creators also use this strategy. [9]They mostly focus on cognitive biases to attract people towards a particular news. Henceforth immediately after U.S Presidential elections news outlets like ‘The Washington Posts’ came out with articles with headlines stating “ Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during election, experts say”. Fake news is also evident of playing a significant role in Brexit. John Danzig a journalist in a speech in 2015 at Germany,[10] just one year before the referendum took place for Brexit on 23rd June, 2016 [11]pointed how a famous British Newspaper named ‘Daily Mail’, have persuaded and influenced public opinion about the immigration of refugees and asylum seekers by presenting them as illegal immigrants.[12] Which is supposed to have shaped the mind of the voters. Some of the instances are false reports claiming that all of the buses and planes from Romania and Bulgaria to Britain were sold out, adding to the huge fear in the minds of the citizens that illegal immigration will disrupt their countries economic stability. On complaining about breaching the Editiors Code of Practice it was found out that the editor of daily mail Paul Dacer was also the in charge of  the ‘Press Council’s Editors Code of Practice’. In addition, another newspaper named ‘Daily Express’ [13]published an article regarding the immigration of refugees and it was found out to be consisting of multiple factual errors. Most interestingly how these newspapers was found out deriving benefits by spreading fake news was through a voting system where readers can call on a given number and vote in favour or disfavour of the immigrants of illegal migrants through which the Daily Mail made a lot of money. These types of fake news have presumed to persuade the minds of the voters before the referendum took place. This is rising threat not only for matured democracies like U.S.A , but also for developing democracies like India the second most populous country recognized as the largest democracy of the world. A recent survey by Microsoft has revealed that sixty percent of Indians are exposed to fake news online as compared to the global average of fifty seven percent. [14] One of the major force behind its prevalence in India is the presence deep-rooted nationalist sentiments.[15]          Henceforth fake news has become the most eminent threat to elections. Topping the list of countries mostly affected by fake news is U.S.A, followed by U.K, France and Germany. While digital media along with print media has been effective in spreading fake news, the real threat is supposed to be the messaging apps like ‘WhatsApp’, Twitter, Facebook, which due to high level of encryption is largely uncontrollable. Therefore, such things require stronger regulations and needs immediate attention of the governments so that these are prevented from undermining people faith on the democratic process of a country.

The biggest threat to any foundation is the problem of non- identification of a predicament, which in turn is the biggest challenge related to fake news. It has become difficult for common people relying on digital platforms in order to have quick access to news, in our fast life to verify the authenticity of every site we encounter. Henceforth it is the responsibility of our government to issues guidelines regarding fake news websites and on how to identify those. In addition, it is suggestive that before framing our opinion on any aspect verification must be done. While countries like China, France, Germany, Kenya, and Malaysia, Cambodia have laws codified to deal with misinformation, Bangladesh, Egypt, Myanmar, Thailand has gone far ahead and have enforced their laws. In Ireland and Taiwan, it is still in the status of a bill. [16] In respect to these, countries like India and Sri Lanka have taken strict measures to shut down websites spreading misinformation. However, inspiration can be taken from countries like Tanzania, which have come up with regulations like blog licensing which would allow only licensed and authorised people to operate websites. In addition, Uganda have also come up with a new form of tax called Social Media Tax, in an attempt to stop people from using fake news for generating money and with an indirect intention to generate more revenue for the government. However there had been debates over whether such stricter guidelines would pose a restriction to freedom of press or not. However, any content, which threaten the democratic functioning of the country and not just being utilised as a political tool, which has gone as far as claiming lives must be given more priority over press freedom as fakeness cannot be a way of criticising the functioning of any organisation. U.N has also taken it seriously and has issued a joint declaration on freedom of expression focusing on fake news and propaganda on 3rd of March 2017.  [17] While such guidelines are helpful, it is important for social media platforms to take effective measures in dealing with the problem. While in the past social media platforms have refused in taking responsibility of their apps and applications involved in spreading fake news, claiming it to be just a site through which information is shared. Being under continues scrutiny and pressure through government agencies they have promised to come up with regulations considering the information shared on their sites to be of their responsibility. The social media giant Facebook ahead of 2019 elections have laid down rules, which states that any misleading or fake content such as hate speeches will not found a place in its platform. It has collaborated with third party fact checkers like Boom Live to verify the authenticity of the content and has promised to collaborate with more such companies. [18] In addition, the messaging giant WhatsApp has shown serious efforts on curbing misinformation. The second phase of the ‘share joy not rumours campaign’ initiated by WhatsApp has also started. While the first one included T.V, Radio advertisements to educate people about the prevalence and threats related to fake news, the second phase includes educating people about the various tools and controls available on WhatsApp like how to block a contact, how to exit a group the significance of the word forwarded. [19]While such initiatives is expected of having positive outcomes, more focus need to          be given on data tracking mechanisms rather than on legislations.

Being ranked as the word of the year in 2017, [20] fake news today has turned out to be a global threat. It is affecting the lives of the people as spreading information today has become much easier, manipulating contents and targeting people based on cognitive biases like not reading the full content before sharing, believing on a news based on the number of like shares and comments it has received have made things more easier and influential. In addition, the legal challenges and time-consuming court procedures have become barrier in suing publishers at court. Most interestingly in countries like India, even after having laws in IPC punishing those spreading hate content, sheer anonymity associated with the spreading of fake news have made situations worse. Henceforth initiatives taken by information giant like, Google to spread authentic news through ‘Google News Initiatives’[21], must be encouraged along with AI technology.

In a developing era with new developments and progressive advancements comes newer threats, which needs newer regulations and cooperative initiatives across nations around the globe to deal with it, so as to promote welfare across the boundaries and make our global village a more advanced and most importantly a safer place to live in. 

 

 

 

 


[1] A Brief History Of fake News, available at: http://www.cits.ucsb.edu/fake-news/brief-history (visited on march 29, 2019)

[2] A Brief History Of fake News, available at: http://www.cits.ucsb.edu/fake-news/brief-history (visited on march 29, 2019)

[3] A Brief History Of fake News, available at: http://www.cits.ucsb.edu/fake-news/brief-history (visited on march 29, 2019)

[4] 5 Types of 'Fake News' and Why They Matter available at: https://www.ogilvy.com/feed/5-types-of-fake-news-and-why-they-matter/ (last modified on July 5, 2018)

[5] Digital Campaigning: The Rise of Facebook and Satellite Campaigns, available at: https://academic.oup.com/pa/article/71/suppl_1/189/4930846 ( last modified on 19 March 2018)

[6]  Cambridge Analytica used fashion preferences to target people on Facebook, available at: https://www.vox.com/the-goods/2018/11/29/18118330/cambridge-analytica-facebook-data-scandal-fashion (last modified on Nov 29, 2018)

[7] Cambridge Analytica used fashion preferences to target people on Facebook, available at: https://www.vox.com/the-goods/2018/11/29/18118330/cambridge-analytica-facebook-data-scandal-fashion (last modified on Nov 29, 2018)

[8] Cambridge Analytica used fashion preferences to target people on Facebook, available at: https://www.vox.com/the-goods/2018/11/29/18118330/cambridge-analytica-facebook-data-scandal-fashion (last modified on Nov 29, 2018)

[9] Why we fall for fake news, available at: http://www.cits.ucsb.edu/fake-news/why-we-fall ( visited on 29 march, 2019)

[10] Jon Danzig wins New European of the Year Award 2014 available at:https://neweuropeans.net/article/622/jon-danzig-wins-new-european-year-award-2014 ( last modified on 22 February 2015)

[11] Brexit: Your simple guide to the UK leaving the EU, available at: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-46318565 (last modified on 29 March 2019)

[12]How fake news caused Brexit, available at: https://eu-rope.ideasoneurope.eu/2017/11/14/fake-news-caused-brexit/ (last modified on 14th November 2017)

[13] Paul Dacre to step down as chair of journalists’ code of practice committee, available at: https://www.theguardian.com/media/2016/dec/01/paul-dacre-to-step-down-as-chair-of-journalists-code-of-practice-committee ( last modified on 1st December 2016)

[14] India has more fake news than any other country in the world: Survey, available at: https://www.businessinsider.in/india-has-more-fake-news-than-any-other-country-in-the-world-survey/articleshow/67868418.cms (last modified on February 6, 2019)

[15] Nationalism a driving force behind fake news in India, research shows, available at: http://www.niemanlab.org/reading/nationalism-is-driving-fake-news-in-india-and-other-findings-from-the-bbcs-research-into-fake-news/ ( last modified on 12 November, 2018)

[16] A guide to anti-misinformation actions around the world, available at: https://www.poynter.org/ifcn/anti-misinformation-actions/( Last modified on , 9 April 2017)

[17]  Freedom of Expression Monitors Issue Joint Declaration on ‘Fake News’, Disinformation and Propaganda, available at: https://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=21287&LangID=E ( last visited on 29 march 2019)

[18] Ahead of 2019 elections, Facebook takes steps to curb fake news, hate speech, available at: https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/info-tech/social-media/ahead-of-2019-elections-facebook-takes-steps-to-curb-fake-news-hate-speech/article25382686.ece (Last modified on October 31, 2018) 

[19] WhatsApp introduces Share Joy, Not Rumors campaign to control spread of misinformation during General Elections, available at:  https://www.indiatoday.in/amp/technology/news/story/whatsapp-introduces-share-joy-not-rumors-campaign-to-control-spread-of-misinformation-during-general-elections-1486521-2019-03-26 ( last modified on March 27 , 2019)

[20] The term ‘fake news’ is doing great harm Available at: https://theconversation.com/the-term-fake-news-is-doing-great-harm-100406 ( Last Modified on July 27, 2018)

 

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