India’s fake news problem is spreading beyond WhatsApp

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You can’t discuss the ‘fake news’ phenomenon in India without bringing up WhatsApp. The Facebook-owned messaging service has been constantly under fire after several people were lynched across the country over a misleading video that did the rounds for a year. The platform had to set up a team for India and run multiple programs to educate people about fighting the spread of misinformation. With India’s assembly elections just around the corner, the company has a tough year ahead in ensuring its platform isn’t exploited to lead voters astray.

But WhatsApp isn’t the only platform plagued by propaganda, fake news, and doctored photos in India. Here’s a look at other services that spread misinformation across the country – and a look at just how difficult a problem it’s become there.

YouTube

India’s internet users consume video extensively, thanks to some of the cheapest data rates on the planet. According to a recent report by App Annie, people in India spent nearly 47 billion hours in 2018 on the top five streaming apps in the country. Unfortunately, YouTube, the biggest streaming video app in India, isn’t safe from people spreading misinformation – and according to CNBC, the company’s lax content moderation policies haven’t helped.

The report noted that many YouTube viewers in the country are first-time internet users, and come from low-literacy backgrounds. As such, they struggle to differentiate between fake news and legitimate content.

In recent times, one misleading video described the Rs. 2,000 currency note (introduced in 2016) as containing a GPS tracker; another falsely claimed that a prominent jewelry chain used counterfeit gold, and allegedly caused them a loss of $70 million in revenue.

With hundreds of hours of content uploaded every hour, it’s hard to keep track of each piece of content. But YouTube promised to try: last July, it committed $25 million to tackle fake news on the site, and outlined a plan to task 10,000 human reviewers with verifying the quality and truthfulness of uploaded videos.

Political apps

India’s current Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, launched his own app in 2015, with a view to share information about the initiatives he’s led, as well as government schemes that citizens can take advantage of in their daily lives. It has a news feed where people can post pictures, videos, and text – and sadly, it’s been exploited by propagandists looking to steer the NaMo app’s 1.43 million users away from the country’s opposition Congress party.

Notably, the Narendra Modi app is pre-installed in Reliance’s feature phone JioPhone and Micromax phones distributed in Chattisgarh.

Credit: DisFact