Youth Must Take Responsibility To Prevent Fake News

On 6th August 2020, Social Media Matters conducted a discussion on fake news and misinformation. Social Media Matters Co–Founders Arnika Singh and Pratishtha Arora participated in the Facebook Live. The panelists were among the top government agencies, CSO’s and digital news platform. The eminent speakers were Bharat Nayak, Founder, The Logical Indian; Rakesh Maheshwari, Director, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology; and Pankaj Jain from SM Hoax Slayer. The panel was moderated by Arnika Singh from SMM.

The panel discussion started with a brief introduction and insights from the research. Arnika started the discussion by taking through the numbers of the report, “More than 3400 users participated in the survey conducted through both English and Hindi medium. Over 55% males and 45% females participated in the survey. It was observed that, almost 70% users came across fake news related to COVID – 19 at some point of time. She further added, “Among 70% users, 76% belong to the age bracket of 18–25 years. WhatsApp is considered the biggest source of fake news with 88% followed by Facebook and Instagram comprising 42% and 21% respectively. Twitter and Tik Tok have the least composition of fake news. As per our data 84% do not believe in fake news while 16% forward it to their contacts.”

On impact of fake news in India, Pankaj said, “People are so much reliant on WhatsApp forwards that even during pandemic they end up believing in fake news. If people end up taking the wrong medicines during pandemic it could be dangerous. It’s better to consult a doctor.” He further added, “there are a lot of conspiracy theories regarding vaccines and coronavirus transmission. We need to be careful, responsible and facts need to be double – checked through verified fact – checking sites.” On the response, Arnika remarked, “Youth is the biggest target of this whole forwarding game.”

Bharat, a verification trainer under Google News Initiative is known for training on fake news at educational institutions. He said, “If you’re getting medical information on WhatsApp do not blindly trust everything before verifying its source. People are scared and panicked due to pandemic. So, any news regarding the virus or vaccine is getting circulated rapidly. WhatsApp forwards without any official verification are becoming a reality. People need to be informed that unverified information could be dangerous for their lives. Many people don’t know that fake news even exists.”

On problems due to COVID and fake news as an infodemic Rakesh said, “Fake news is a real issue particularly with the popularity of social media platforms like WhatsApp. Since, lockdown the ministry had advised social media platforms against fake news regarding COVID situation. There are guidelines being issued from WHO and Ministry of Health.” Rakesh is also known for his work in cyber laws at policy level as well. He further added, “Ministry of Information & Broadcasting has been working on the use of fake news since December 2019. It has been working to detect fake news related to government initiatives on prevention of coronavirus since, the information is rotational and spreads at a very speedy rate. There is a provision in IPC 464 and 564 that clearly states, if anyone is intentionally spreading falsehood whether in physical or digital world then the penalties apply to that person. We need to create awareness among people.”

On viral fake news Pratishtha pointed out, “There’s fake news in colleges that Facebook membership is chargeable. Such viral news must be taken into consideration as they impact the youth.” She further added, “Talking about bullying or sharing useful information, youth relies on social media. As agents of social change youth must take responsibility to prevent fake news. They must verify any information before sharing it through any social media channel. Students in our workshop are taught to only share authenticated/verified information.”

Pratishtha also mentioned, “Unless we don’t have any forced action, the awareness level remains zero. We’ve done workshops with children and elderly on fake news. But unless there’s any law regulation mechanism we don’t take it seriously. People have blind faith on WhatsApp forwards. There is need for workshops on these matters in short intervals not just with youngsters but with all age groups. The advancement in technology risk of fake news will considerably increase and this should also be added at the educational level.”

According to Pankaj, “The best weapon against fake news is not to forward WhatsApp messages that are likely to be fake news from unverified unauthentic sources. The simple way forward is break fake chain. It’s not that difficult. You must have an open mind and hunger for truth, that’s all.”

Arnika concluded as she said, “We need to have more dialogue on implications of fake news especially among the youth.”
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