Fake news has the world perplexed. There have been numerous examples of its insidious ability to manipulate electoral results, invoke hatred, spread panic and malign reputations. The bearers of fake news - social media platforms Facebook, Twitter and search engine Google - are visibly trying to curtail the spread of false news and information.
Facebook has changed the way its algorithm works and has launched a news integrity initiative to promote news and digital literacy. The company has collaborated with fact-checking organisations, to help identify misleading content. In India, Facebook has partnered with BoomLive, a media start-up, to check the accuracy of news related to Karnataka elections. The social networking is actively downgrading publishers that post fake news frequently.
Google, meanwhile, has partnered with fact-checking organisations globally. It has included a 'fact check' label for news stories that have been vetted by these firms. Twitter recently announced that it is suspending a number of suspicious accounts (bots) to curtail spread of misinformation.
These steps, while in the right direction, are not enough.
A study conducted by researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology has found that humans, not bots, are primarily responsible for spreading misleading information. One other revelation was that false news spreads more rapidly on Twitter than real news does and by a substantial margin - false news stories are 70 per cent more likely to be retweeted than true stories. The study involved the tracking of roughly 1,26,000 cascades of news stories on Twitter, from 2006 to 2017, by six fact-checking websites.
Pankaj Jain, Founder of fact-checking website SMHoaxslayer.com, is not surprised by these findings. People are the problem, he says. "We are living in a filter bubble today and, therefore, everybody spreads what they like, without checking the authenticity of the information," he adds.
Who really is to blame - the user, the news source or the social networking platform?
According to Pratik Sinha, Founder of Altnews, a fact-checking website, digital media should also work towards curtailing the fake news by forming a team that can assess facts.
Experts unanimously agree that there is a need for social programmes in the country to apprise people about how to separate fact from fiction. The government, media organisations and social media platforms need to come together to wage a war on fake news.