The demon of Mob Lynching followed by the circulation of Fake News over Whatsapp and other Social Media Platforms has claimed about 20 lives over the last few months. India, with an active user base of about 200 million is Whatsapp’s largest market and the complications for this social media giant have only been on a rise pertaining to the cases of mob killing , ranging from Assam to Karnataka. In a recently conducted meeting between The Union Minister of Electronics and Information Technology Mr. Ravi Shankar Prasad and Whatsapp chief Chris Daniels, the government sternly demanded that the messaging platform will need to set up a local entity and to evolve a technical solution to trace the origin of Fake News. This meeting comes in the backdrop of a hostile environment which was created when the government last month warned this social media company that `it can’t evade responsibility if it’s service is used to create and propagate false information.’ But can Whatsapp and other social media platforms be held solely responsible for this dreadful monstrosity called Fake News? In this article we will discuss in detail about this ever-evolving challenge of fake news along with some measures to counter it.
The popular assumption regarding fake news is that `Fake news is news, stories or hoaxes created deliberately to misinform and deceive the readers’ but that’s just one of the aspect of this multi-dimensional hazard. As a nation standing just six months away from elections it becomes essentially important for us to understand the fine difference between Fake News and Propaganda driven news. Fake news consists of absolute fake content like mobbed photographs, fake photographs and fake content while propaganda driven news consists of manipulated facts, social media campaign trying to promote a particular hashtag and some political campaign directed to create a specific thought process in the society.
If we examine the factors responsible for the growth of this catastrophic phenomenon, technological advancements are to be blamed at large. From the automatic fabrication of news headlines and stories to the ultramodern software programmes which can synthesize Donald Trump’s speech to create authentic looking videos, fake news is fuelled by the rapid advancements in the technological sector. Fake news spreads when it is promoted through these bots which operate on Facebook, Twitter and many other social media platforms. According to an estimate, about 15% of all active twitter accounts are not humans but these bots. This happens because Facebook, Twitter, all other social media companies earn their revenue through paid posts where they allow users to put money behind their posts and make them viral.
As often quoted that `Technology is a two-edged sword’, hence the solution to this problem of Fake News lies within the domain of technology itself. In January 2018, while speaking at The World Economic Summit held at Davos, Switzerland, Google and Facebook announced plans to develop Artificial Intelligence (AI) Systems that would alert the users about dubious content. In order to have a better understanding of how AI can curb the spreading of fake content let’s take the example of Whatsapp. As soon as a video or photo is shared on Whatsapp, the first thing they do is they strip off the meta data and other relevant information like the identity of the uploader, device from which the content was uploaded, location and other forensic information which is useful for any law enforcement agency is deleted and then the content is circulated through their network. Their argument behind such deletion is the maintenance of Right to Privacy of their users as guaranteed under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.
Since the Right to Life and Personal Liberty as enshrined under Article 21 focuses on ‘all persons’ and not only citizens, this helps these corporate entities to hide under the veil of Privacy. The dilemma with the present Government is that all their attempts at monitoring and regulating fake content over social media platforms are met with criticism and accusations of spying and violating the Right to Privacy under Article 21. But the recently concluded meeting between Whatsapp Chief Chris Daniels and Union Minister of Electronics and Informational Technology clearly illustrates the determination of the government to tackle the challenges imposed by the origin and propagation of Fake Content and News.
Now the big question before our country is can the Government and The Social Media Companies fight this Monster alone? The answer to this question is surely in Negative. About 99 % of data on Facebook and Whatsapp is user generated and hence as a civilized society it’s our responsibility to verify every information and cross check every fact before uploading, sharing and propagating it through your Whatsapp account, Facebook Timeline or Twitter Feed. We only as a collective society can tackle this ghost of Fake News which has been haunting our Nation since last many months.