Many termed the 2019 general elections in India the WhatsApp elections, in which, going beyond its primary purpose of communication, the messaging software became a channel to circulate propaganda. Through WhatsApp, misinformation or ‘fake news’ went on being circulated – unchecked and unabated.
This is not new. The rise of such misinformation had already led to polarisation, mob violence and lynchings of the innocent over the past four years.
The fake news menace is worrying because social media giants such as Google, Twitter and Facebook, where both real and fake news thrive side by side, have now become the primary source of news consumption for millennials. The medium that spreads populism is loyal only to its profit motive, not the community.
Information making the rounds on the internet, in the form of graphics and short video clippings that remain unchecked, has given rise to an immediate need for verification.
Software engineer Pratik Sinha co-founded India’s first fact-checking website ‘Alt-News’ in 2017 to attempt this.
In the book India Misinformed: The True Story, Pratik and his co-authors Arjun Sidharth and Sumaiya Shaikh debunk claims, uncover the pattern of fake news and try to identify the purveyors of misinformation.
Donald Trump’s favourite term, “fake news”, has certainly gone from becoming a political tool to posing a grave threat to democracy. This book is an anthology of essays that exposes the machinery behind the circulation of fake news.
Through several examples of previously debunked information, the authors attempt to educate and sensitise the layman to henceforth take every ‘WhatsApp forward’ with a pinch of cynicism.
The IT conundrum
The book comes at a time when the IT cells or the “digital war rooms” of political parties have weaponised social media.
With 11 million followers on Twitter, the Bharatiya Janata Party has mastered the social media game while the Congress is trying to up the ante. And to everyone’s surprise, even the yesteryear’s CPI(M) has joined the bandwagon. Parties taking jibes at each other over Twitter can be a sight to behold till someone has to pay for it with their life.
In July 2017, during a communal riot in West Bengal, a man had shared a photo on Facebook claiming that Hindu women were molested by Muslims. The photo showed a man pulling the sari off a woman surrounded by a crowd of men. However, the image is actually a still from a Bhojpuri film called Aurat Khilona Nahin, a fact brought to light by Alt News.
In a probable post-Roshomon era where the construct of fake news and fabrication of information has mushroomed into a credibility crisis and a threat to the nation, it is for the people to evaluate everything that comes their way through social media. India Misinformed guides people on how best to do this.
India Misinformed: The True Story
By: Pratik Sinha, Dr Sumaiya Shaikh and Arjun Sidharth
Publishers: HarperCollins India
Price: Rs 227