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Role of media in fake news dispersal

The media disseminates a tremendous amount of political content, but much of the material is trivial, unreliable, and polarizing. Controlling fake news these days has kept preoccupied various technology platforms, the political class, the news media, and an increasing tribe of citizens concerned about democracy being hijacked.

 American author Ralph Keyes (2004) observes that society has entered a posttruth era. Deception has become a defining characteristic of modern life, and is so pervasive that people are desensitized to its implications. He laments the fact that ambiguous statements containing a kernel of authenticity, but falling short of the truth, have become the currency of politicians, reporters, corporate executives, and other power-brokers.

The reason for the fake news dispersal

➢ The rise of social media has led to the ubiquity and difficulty in controlling/eliminating fake news.

➢ Governments and political actors (anyone in the business of mobilizing public opinion) have always invested in fake news campaigns to build news of their choice.

➢ With all this the institutional media has also been seen its credibility erode.

Measures to combat fake news

➢ Rebuttal (Controversy) - Rebuttal is a type of fact checking wherein the fake news is removed by pointing out errors like mismatch, malicious editing and misattribution.

➢ Removal of the fake news item

➢ Educating the public

Measures outlined for combating fake news discourse

➢ Companies like Facebook and YouTube are pressurized to proactively remove fake news from their platforms and rework their algorithms to ensure that such content does not gain prominence.

➢ The newly introduced limit on forwarding message on WhatsApp is one more example of this discourse, where accountability to address fake news is dumped on to the technology platforms.

➢ Educating the end users to be more precise about the news by informing them of verification tools so that they can verify the accuracy of a news item before sharing it.

➢ Another proposal by the government, concerns tracking the ‘source’ of fake news, primarily to address the issue at its root. But this may cause serious issues concerning invasion of privacy and free speech.

Shortcomings of these approaches

➢ It is possible to rebut news on one fake instance (example of children getting abducted) but the ‘fake news factory’ will keep leaking out similar stories to advance its chosen narrative. So, it is impossible to completely ‘remove’ fake news even after rebuttal, given the decentralised nature of dissemination.

➢ The increasing complexity of issues, in combination with the deluge of information has made it impossible for any individual to develop a well-researched stand on all the topics.

➢ When the piece of information (fake news or otherwise) stands for someone’s held beliefs, it is readily accepted and shared.

➢ People don’t care about finding the ‘truth’ behind news item and instead look for evidence to support their preferred narrative (confirmation bias).

Steps to address the debunking of fake news

➢ Addressing the weaknesses that allow the fake news narrative to take root. While pushing the fake news, they have to witness the loss of credibility which is perceived as elitist and corrupt.

➢ We must mobilise public opinion around an alternate narrative that makes the fake news item irrelevant.

➢ Instead of poking holes in an opponent’s story, it may be more effective to replace it with a different narrative built on facts, as most of the people cannot hold multiple stories in their head.

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