Tue, 14 Jul, 2020

Just junk that fake news

The rise and spread of fake news has become a serious concern in recent times, and Goa itself has been rocked by a number of fake news in recent days

10th August 2019, 02:48 Hrs


While the spread of social media and messaging apps have served to bring the world closer and speed up the exchange of messages, they have also caused serious concern as they have become the means for spreading fake news. The phenomenon was at the centre of attention during the 2019 elections, and continues to be a major problem to this day. From Rs 2000 note having a GPS tracker to rumours of death of various celebrities, various fake news have spread panic among the people. 

In the past few days, Goa too was rocked by a couple of alerts that appeared surprisingly true, but were later proved to be fake. One of them was a morphed circular  circulated in the name of Directorate of Education, stating that the schools had a holiday on August 8 too, after the Board had announced one on August 7. Interestingly, chief minister Pramod Sawant himself had to debunk rumours with a tweet stating that no circular had been issued granting a holiday to schools on August 8. How many students fell for the circular and took a holiday on that day is a matter of speculation. 

Another news that circulated on social media and messaging apps was that due to flooding in many areas, the trucks bringing fuel to Goa are blocked, and that there would be no fuel for the next three days. This alert triggered panic among motorists and led to long queues of vehicle owners at petrol pumps around Goa. 

In another case, even as the state faced heavy rains, google-map images began circulating, suggesting that a cyclone is headed towards Goa. Fortunately, that was not the case. 

Elsewhere, another alert circulated in the name of a news channel stated that chief minister had cautioned Goans to cross the Borim bridge at their own risk. In reality, even though the chief minister had voiced concerns about the bridge, he had not asked citizens to cross it at their own risk. Later, the concerned news channel had to issue a clarification over the fake alert in circulation.

Such instances only serve to underline the urgent need to act against the issue. In response to the crisis, Whatsapp brought restrictions on the number of contacts one can forward a message to. Though, how much that has helped could be a subject of debate. Even so, now major social media platforms are working on measures to tackle the fake news menace, say social media experts. 

“Social media platforms are indeed concerned about the issue and are working to address it,” says Prajyot Mainkar, founder of Androcid Media Pvt Ltd. “Twitter has launched a feature that identifies the source of a tweet and how it spreads, using a symbol that is ‘Mic’. On similar lines, Facebook and Whatsapp are preparing to track the origins of given fake news,” he informs. There are third party companies that have been using Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to understand the sources as well. They also indicate the depth of news spread which can impact the news authenticity.

Other experts that spoke to TG Life also suggest that individuals can use tools such as Snopes.com or hoax.slayer.net which work to debunk fake news on the Internet. However, these websites are from the West, and their performance in Indian context might need some testing. 

All things said and done, developing one’s critical thinking ability and identifying credible sources of news is the need of the hour.

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