The ongoing ‘infodemic’ has prompted companies like Flipkart, entities like Tata Trusts, as well as a bunch of content creators to take matters into their own hands and debunk fake news.
Till recently, the onus of curbing the spread of such news and misinformation rested on social media and messaging platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and others, but now this disparate grouping of people and corporates are doing their bit to sensitise online users about the importance of sharing content responsibly, although fact-checkers doubt the efficacy of these attempts.
They have come up with catchy videos, web series, or social media posts from a brand’s accounts across platforms, to address the ‘infodemic’ — a term used by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to refer to the damage caused by Covid-19-related misinformation – as well other fake news.
Last week, youth-centric media and research platform Yuvaa released an anti-fake-news anthem in collaboration with the United Nations for its Verified global initiative “to provide content that cuts through the noise to deliver life-saving information, fact-based advice and stories from the best of humanity.”
Riffing on a famous Britney Spears track, Yuvaa’s “Oops! I shared it again” features celebrities and content creators like Akash Banerjee (The Deshbhakt), Gurmehar Kaur, Maanvi Gagroo, Nakuul Mehta, Shreya Dhanwanthary and others openly admitting to being a part of the problem of fake news dissemination.
Some of the lyrics, written in Hindi, loosely translate to: “It feels nice when the news aligns with my bias. It urges me to be the first to share it with others, so as to establish that I know everything. Verifying news is boring, so why should I take the pain?”
Nikhil Taneja, cofounder and CEO of Yuvaa says the video “is an attempt at conveying that we need to look inwards before holding others responsible for spreading fake news, because, at some point or the other, we’ve all forwarded something without double-checking.”
“It is meant for the youth and encourages them to initiate a dialogue on the subject with the older generations, too,” he adds.
So far, the issue of fake news has been largely dealt with academically, Taneja points out, adding that his team wanted to create something that seeped into pop culture.
Homegrown ecommerce marketplace Flipkart, too, took the pop-culture route to address the fake news issue recently.
In July, the Bengaluru-based company launched a web series called ‘Fake or Not?’ for its in-app video streaming service, Flipkart Video.
It features content creator Mallika Dua playing a news anchor and debunking the latest fake news in her inimitable, satirical style. The show has had two seasons and Flipkart plans to announce the third soon, a company spokesperson tells ET.
Enter the platforms
Meanwhile, a few social platforms have also been rolling out new features to address the menace of misinformation.
Recently, Twitter introduced a “Read before you Retweet” pop-up to nudge users into pausing before circulating what they read among their following. The insight: headlines do not tell the full story.
After conducting trials for this rollout, the micro-blogging platform claimed that Tweeters opened articles 40% more often upon seeing the prompt.
“Some people didn’t end up RTing after opening the article – which is fine! Some Tweets are best left in drafts,” said Twitter’s communications team via a tweet late last month.
Earlier this year, Facebook-owned messaging platform WhatsApp also made some Covid-19-led changes to the product.
As per the company blog, “when a message is forwarded through a chain of five or more chats, meaning it’s at least five forwards away from its original sender, the message is labelled with a double arrow icon. These messages can only be forwarded to one chat at a time.”
The popular catchphrase “sharing is caring” almost has a new meaning during the current times.
One has to read between the lines to interpret “if you care, share responsibly”.
Even the UN initiative’s tagline says #TakeCareBeforeYouShare.
Fact-checkers have, however, voiced their concerns over some of these initiatives.
“Why is Mallika Dua debunking fake news? Wouldn’t people prefer if it came from someone in the news industry as opposed to the entertainment industry? I don’t know if it’s having an impact,” says Pratik Sinha, cofounder of Alt News, a non-profit fact-checking organisation.
Hundreds of people have died in India and around the world after falling prey to Covid-19 related fake news, as per several media reports.
“It’s definitely necessary to nudge people to do more verification,” says Sinha.
And to that end, the creator community participating in this battle against misinformation is a welcome move.
Can the same be said of the platforms though?
“There’s no way to independently verify Twitter’s claim that people are indeed reading before RTing after the feature roll-out. We have to take their word for it. And what if the information is false in the first place?” Sinha argues.
So far, platforms have only encouraged users to “like and share”. They need to do a lot more to take users to the point of “think before you share”, notes YouTuber Dhruv Rathee who has created content addressing misinformation in the past.
In the absence of a robust misinformation policy at each of these platforms, these attempts are nothing but piecemeal offerings, adds Sinha.
Not the first time
This isn’t the first time someone has brought up the issue of internet platforms not doing enough to combat fake news and misinformation, and this won’t be the last.
Not until hate mongers continue to thrive on these sites and succeed in spreading their agenda-driven fake news.
“It took Facebook a few hours to add a warning on POTUS Donald Trump’s post about the cocktail cure for Covid-19,” highlights Sinha.
As a fact-checker, he has only seen the impact of misinformation increase over time, be it in stirring lynch mobs, spreading Islamophobia — yesterday, a Tanishq jewellery ad exhibiting Hindu-Muslim unity was taken off the internet by the brand after it got trolled online on account of “love jihad” — or, worst of all, costing people their lives.
At a time when people are more device-dependent than ever for connection and communication, fighting fake news becomes all the more critical.
As Yuvaa’s Taneja mentions: Fake news went from being funny — think UNESCO and national anthem — to being toxic in a very short span of time.
“For the sake of analogy, I think we need to get from the point where people around us were being duped by the Nigerian prince scam emails to the point they started making fun of it. Perhaps we need fake news to get to that level, too, where you can identify it easily to be able to make fun of it,” he adds.
And at the moment, we’re miles away from reaching that level.