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Reasoning out information: how to curb fake news

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As technology is overpowering our thinking ability, one without reasoning any particular event is likely to fall prey to the misinformation which is in front of our eyes. This misinformation is nothing but ‘fake news’.

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India is not an exception, as it records with over 460 million internet users. Ranked only behind China, India is the second largest online market, quotes Statista, a Statistics Portal. Therefore, without proper filter mechanism, information circulated around social media sites, have higher chances of getting distorted. This distortion of information has been reflected in the recent mob lynching incidents that took place across the country. These incidents were mainly fueled by fake news which resulted in men beating up alleged suspects to death.

One such tragic event was the Assam lynching incident, where a resident of Dengaon in Assam’s Karbi Anglong district, had read it on Facebook that five child-lifters from Bihar were on a kidnapping spree in the area and they had already struck several times in the district capital of Diphu. The news kept circulating on Facebook for over a week, which created an impression that the news was real. As the villagers were at watch an evening, they took two men driving through the highway into suspicion. The two men were allegedly taken as child-lifters and were lynched and beaten to death by an angry mob. With the news of their death, a furore broke out in the state. Violent protest spread in Guwahati.

Several other incidents of mob lynching took place across the country which were fueled by a Facebook or a WhatsApp post. The recent Karnataka incident where a software engineer from Google was taken as a child-lifter when he was offering chocolates to children. In Dhule, 5 persons were lynched by a violent mob when taken as child-lifter.

Therefore, curbing fake news has become a necessity. But before curbing, the biggest challenge that the government and social media companies are facing is identifying what is fake news. Today anyone can publish anything on facebook, without proper knowledge as well as credibility. Sadly, fake news garners a great deal of attraction on the internet through these media sites, and unfortunately accounts a rapid circulation. Lack of knowledge leads the common users to believe such news. The misinformation which are circulated through a shared option gets accumulated with layers of other information which are sufficient enough to cause riots. Recently, Facebook has unveiled its latest attempt to tackle the problem of fake news by allowing users to rank the trustworthiness of news sources. The company has come under fire since the 2016 US presidential election over its apparent role in the spreading of false news stories, and the recent revelation of Cambridge Analytica involved in preserving user’s data had called on to another debate of data breach.

According to a report published by British Broadcasting Corporation, WhatsApp has informed Indian authorities that it is taking a number of steps to counter fake messages on its platform, including testing a new label in India that highlights when a message has been forwarded versus composed by the sender. It has also announced a new project to work with leading academic experts in India to learn more about the spread of misinformation, which will help inform additional product improvements going forward.

But the most effective measure lies in the hands of common people who uses these sites. The only way to curb fake news is to reason out information and refer to sources through which they are spread. There must be stricter laws in force to regulate information and technology for people who breach them.

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