Fake news is described as news, stories, and hoaxes used to deceive and misinform its recipients. The objective of the dispersion of fake news is to influence the readers’ views, push a political agenda or cause confusion amongst the public.Fake news has risen to be one of the biggest perils to the notion of democracy. Collins Dictionary even announced, “fake news” to be the word of the year in 2017[i].The advent of social media has accelerated the reach and growth of fake news since it has brought new ways to publish information which does not require adherence to strict codes of practice. It has allowed one to publish with very little regulation or editorial standards. With the magnitude of information available on the internet, it becomes difficult to segregate credible news from fake ones. Such misinformation can be presented in various forms: clickbait[ii], propaganda[iii], satire/parody[iv], sloppy journalism[v], misleading headings[vi] or biased news[vii].
FAKE NEWS AS A BUSINESS MODEL
Fake news as a medium for political campaigns is a concerning area but its usage to generate profit also warrants attention. The domain of false news is a very profitable industry, generating large sums of advertising revenue for publishers who write stories and articles which go viral on the internet. The more traffic a story gets, the more money online publishers make through advertising revenue. For such purpose, the medium of the internet is ideal for such publishers to publish their articles and stories. According to Rick Holland, vice president of strategy at Digital Shadows, fake news has existed in society prior to the advent of social media and the internet but “the new in the digital world is the speed at which such techniques spread throughout the world.”[viii]Websites target readers based on their biases to increase their traffic and subsequently increase advertisement revenue. Fake news and articles are tailored according to their preferences which reflects the reader’s likes, views, and beliefs which could result in misinformation. Readers are isolated from opposing or different views which results in a phenomenon known as the ‘filter bubble’[ix]. Hugh Linehan, in his article on media literacy, observed that “Media is no longer passively consumed – it’s created, shared, liked, commented on, attacked and defended in all sorts of different ways by hundreds of millions of people. And the algorithms used by the most powerful tech companies – Google and Facebook in particular – are brilliantly designed to personalize and tailor these services to each user’s profile.”[x]
FAKE NEWS AS A THREAT TO NATIONAL SECURITY
Social media is overflowing with doctored videos, text messages containing false information and hate speech pertaining to elections. This presents an imminent threat to national security as 900 million people vote to elect representatives in India. A Microsoft study has observed that 64 percent of Indians encountered fake news online, the highest among all the countries surveyed[xi]. The issue becomes more apparent when India has the most social media userswith 300 million users on Facebook, 200 million on WhatsApp and 250 million using YouTube. TikTok, the video messaging service owned by a Chinese company, has more than 88 million users in India[xii]. These platforms are used as a medium for the transmission of disinformation, influencing the political ideas of its readers. Examples of disinformation with political agendas are aplenty: a made-up BBC survey predicting victory for the governing Bhartiya Janata Party[xiii], a fake video of the opposition Congress Party president, Rahul Gandhi, saying a machine can convert potatoes into gold,[xiv] andrumor spread through social media about child kidnappers arriving in various parts of India has led to 33 deaths in 69 incidents of mob violence since 2017, according to IndiaSpend[xv].
Fake News is also used to incite violence within different communities which were evident when a fake video shared on WhatsApp resulted in communal riots which led to 62 people getting killed in sectarian violence and 50,000 getting displaced from their homes inUttar Pradesh[xvi].
Singapore passed the Protection from Online Falsehood and Manipulation Act (POFMA) on 8 May 2019. By doing so, Singapore has made an attempt to combat false news and misinformation campaigns. The objective of POFMA is to prevent the communication of false news along with taking countermeasures if such communication has taken place. Online locations that habitually publish false information are flagged by the government. Lastly, measures are set up to fact check paid content concerned with political elements. There are key takeaways for India from the enactment of POFMA by Singapore. Firstly, there is an urgent need to acknowledge the role of social media and ICT companies in ensuring that national security is not compromised by fake news. Instead, the skillset available to these companies should be used by the government to combat the problem. Secondly, there are already provisions existing in the form of the IT (Amendment) Act 2008 in respect of monitoring and blocking website who spread misinformation. Further assistance in terms of analytics for segregation false news from credible news will result in a considerable decrease in the communication of misinformation. Thirdly, there is a need to provide education of cyber laws to the general population which will consequently decrease the spread of such information. Fourthly, messages sent on social media should be scrutinized and the anonymity associated with such messages should be removed. This will result in more responsible behavior on the internet. Fifthly, prompt action should be taken against individuals or organizations who are found to be responsible for creating or spreading misinformation. Lastly, partnerships should be made with like-minded countries like Singapore to counter fake news on an international level. The signing of the “Christchurch Call to Action”[xvii] declaration by India is a step in the right direction.
EUROPEAN UNION’S FIGHT AGAINST FAKE NEWS
The European Union (EU) has recognized the urgent need to fight the epidemic of fake news which has affected the majority of European countries. As a result, an expert committee has been created to come up with a strategy against the problem. Bulgaria, inter alia countries, hasset up services to detect and strike down fake news on social media. In a public conference held by Mariya Gabriel, EU Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, she said that an expert group will be set up which will scrutinize sources and URLs to detect fake news[xviii]. Gabriel also said that “fake news stifles the media and society”. She is pushing for research to be undertaken to determine the extent and reach of the problem and its possible solutions. Defining fake news and ensuring good journalistic practices are the key objectives of such research.[xix]
Fake news has become an epidemic that has affected not only India but the world itself. The advent of the Internet has acted as a catalyst in increasing the reach of such disinformation. Fake news has been used as a medium to earn profit by web developers and for the promotion of political agendas by political parties. The inability to differentiate between credible and fake news by readers has resulted in it becoming a threat to national security. Singapore has taken cognizance of the detrimental impact of disinformation and as a result, enacted POFMA as an attempt to combat false news and misinformation campaigns. India should also take steps in the same direction and should push for stricter IT laws and provide for the education of cyberlaws to the general public among other reforms. A coordinated effort on an international level is required in order to successfully tackle the growing problem of fake news.
[i] THE COLLINS WORD OF THE YEAR 2017 IS… FAKE NEWS:
https://www.collinsdictionary.com/woty (last retrieved on 9December 2018).
[ii] Sensational claims with the objective of increase in traffic or advertisement revenue at the expense of truth or accuracy.
[iii]Misleading claims to force a political agenda.
[iv]Fake news for the purpose of entertainment. E.g. The Onion.
[v]News published without checking for accuracy of facts.
[vi]Distorted headlines to garner the attention of readers.
[vii]There is a tendency to get attracted to articles which tend to support our biases. News on social media is displayed on the basis of personalised searches made by readers.
[viii] Фалшивите новини като бизнес модел и заплаха (Fake news as a business model and a
threat): http://cio.bg/9102_falshivite_novini_kato_biznes_model_i_zaplaha (last
retrieved on 11 December 2019).
[ix]Difranzo, Dominic & Gloria-Garcia, Kristine. (2017). Filter bubbles and fake news. XRDS: Crossroads, The ACM Magazine for Students. 23. 32-35. 10.1145/3055153.
[x]“Fake News And Filter Bubbles: How To Tell Truth From Lies Online”. 2020. The Irish Times. https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/tv-radio-web/fake-news-and-filter-bubbles-how-to-tell-truth-from-lies-online-1.2900137.
[xi]India, Press. 2020. “Microsoft Survey: Indians Are More Likely To Encounter Online Fake News”. Business-Standard.Com. https://www.business-standard.com/article/pti-stories/microsoft-survey-india-topping-fake-news-menace-globally-119020501427_1.html.
[xii]“Opinion | India Has A Public Health Crisis. It’S Called Fake News.”. 2020. Nytimes.Com. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/29/opinion/india-elections-disinformation.html.
[xv]Alison Saldanha, Pranav Rajput & Jay Hazare, and Pranav Rajput & Jay Hazare Alison Saldanha. 2020. “Child-Lifting Rumours: 33 Killed In 69 Mob Attacks Since Jan 2017. Before That Only 1 Attack In 2012 |”. Indiaspend. https://www.indiaspend.com/child-lifting-rumours-33-killed-in-69-mob-attacks-since-jan-2017-before-that-only-1-attack-in-2012-2012/.
[xvi] Supra xii
[xvii]“India Signs Christchurch Call To Action To Combat Online Extremism”. 2020. India Today. https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/christchurch-call-to-action-1526118-2019-05-16.
[xviii]Всеки четвърти българин вижда всекидневно фалшиви новини в медиите (Every
fourth Bulgarian sees fake news in the media every day):
news265850.html (last retrieved on 15 December 201p).
[xix]EU Commissioner Gabriel Launches Public Consultation on Fake News on November 13:
http://www.bta.bg/en/c/DF/id/1688379 (last retrieved on 13 November 2017).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Randeep Dahiya is currently a third-year student at O.P. Jindal Global Law School.
In content picture credits: towardsdatascience