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Shameless audacity a strategy to spread disinformation, says Rupa Jha of BBC World Service

Sonal Khetarpal     January 25, 2019

World leaders are weaponsing the term fake news and using it against news organisations and journalists whose coverage they find disagreeable. Recently, Donald Trump accused CNN of reporting fake news, calling its journalist a "rude, terrible person". "Shameless audacity dismays and disorients. Since long it has been the strategy for disinformation. From all that we know, have read and know from history, fake news has played as a big weapon in the hands of autocrats, dictators and stands against democracy, says Rupa Jha, Head of Indian Languages, BBC World Service. "For a country like India this is a big threat."

She adds, that as a country we have not yet developed a culture of looking at the source of the information. In fact, it is a common perception that if a message is received from an uncle or an aunt, it can be trusted. BBC study 'Beyond Fake News' shows how Indians are becoming distrustful of the mainstream media houses and are 'forwarding' information from alternative sources without verifying it, in the belief that they are helping to spread facts.

Media houses, journalists too have added to the problem. In the rush to break news, journalists often end up busting fake news. "Media right now in India and across the globe is in a crisis moment, especially when traditional media and television remains a big platform and the journalism we see there and the business that regulates it is terrifying," says Jha.

The way forward for the news outlets would be to go back to the basics of journalism -- going out and finding the truth and reporting it objectively. "It will take a long time to bring back the trust and resilience towards media," she says.

Also read: WhatsApp launches TV campaigns to fight fake news in India

Abhinandan Sekhri, co-founder and CEO of Newslaundry suggests the way to organically fix the fake news problem is by relooking at its revenue model. World over, the fundamental commerce of news is changing and several platforms are charging for news. As long as news will be driven by eyeballs and ad rates are determined by number of people watching, there is an incentive for news to become Big Boss, he said. "When you pay for news, it will serve the viewers but when advertisers pay for news, it will serve the advertiser."

Another key reason for spreading fake news, especially in the last few years, is for nation building and cultural preservation, and people too forward these messages thinking it as an act of nationalism. This problem of fake news will remain as long as the dispensation (read government) benefits from it, says Sekhri.

Quoting BBC study, Jha shared that the right wing network on Twitter is well aligned compared to the left wing. Therefore, fake news that has a right leaning gets spread very quickly.  There is also an overlap between the rise in fake news content and pro-Modi political activities. More than 56 per cent of the followers from Modi's Twitter handle are unverified Twitter accounts, which is the highest among any political leader across the globe, said Jha. These are not necessarily fake profiles, but are amplifiers with a strong following, who tweet almost thousand times a day.

This was a part of the panel discussion on 'Contours of Fake News and its impact on society' organized by Delhi-based not-for-profit legal services organisation Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC).

Also read: Here's how WhatsApp plans to fight fake news in India

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