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Current political climate influences fake news to prosper

The India Today group fired its journalist Angshukanta Chakraborty after she refused to delete her tweet or resign. She was the Political Editor at DailyO on February 4 Angshukanta had tweeted, “Promoters turning a blind eye to hate-mongering, fake news spreading news anchors, editors, reporters and writers, or hiring them in the first place, must be tried in courts as hate speech enablers-profiteers. Must be boycotted socially by secular politicians & Industrialists.”

Employees of the India Today group reportedly received an email on January 3 asking them to add the clause that the views expressed by them were their personal opinions. Angshukanta reportedly also had the clause on her Twitter profile until the time she was fired. Anchors at channels under India Today have been earlier caught spreading fake news – including those from Mail Today and Aaj Tak. Stories done by the India Today group feature in the ‘Top fake news stories circulated by Indian media in 2017’ by AltNews.

Though Angshukanta’s tweet was in violation of company’s social media policy, but she denied the claim and her services were terminated due to breach of editorial conduct. This move of India Today’s was slammed widely on social media. This is not new, these days journalists are going berserk on social media. They not only spread fake news or propaganda but also make people believe their propaganda against one politician or political party. If you remember, during demonetisation days, a senior anchor of ZEE News was spreading the gossips that the new currency notes are launched with a Nano GPS Chip embedded in it. No media or journalist objected to such reports, for example Sudarshan TV — the channel is surviving on hate-mongering by spreading lies on daily basis. My question is that why Ms Chakraborty was selective while criticising?

The fake news is in fashion these days because political parties are turning their attention to the people that grant them a mandate. But as the political propaganda is ramped-up, whether we like it or not, the term “fake news” is here to stay. Digital journalism has got a sense of putting fake news viral. Most of the time, sharing on social media is done for emotional reasons and this applies to fake news as well. We consume news not just because of the facts in there, but also to make sense of the world, to confirm our notion of how things are working ‘out there’. Our bias is validated through confirmation, i.e., “the more people share my sense of understanding, the more I am convinced that I got it right”. Emotional and dramatic fake news items are attracting more attention, pretty much like real news of that sort. However, the key thing here is these news items confirm people’s world view by for example, creating more outrage targeted against opponent groups or by incriminating those people that we’d like to see incriminated.

The role of the media is as crucial as maintaining a democratic society – by informing its citizens and holding those in power to account – has long been championed, particularly by the media itself. Unfortunately, our current mass media have shown themselves to be inadequate in this role.

Ever since Modi and BJP took the political establishment by surprise, its representatives have been claiming that we are living in a “post-truth” world, where facts and experts are no longer trusted, and information is dominated by “fake news”. This is an understandable, coping mechanism of establishment conservatives to deal with their shocking loss of political power. It is also simplistic and self-defeating. As individuals, we crave confirmation of our worldview, provided we have a base level of trust in the source of information, its objective truth is of secondary importance.

We also prize information that can be used as social currency to build relationships with our networks or information that, through association with it, signifies something about our identity and group affiliation. The more sensational the story we share with others, the more social value it can have. A few people may deliberately choose what information to share on social media to influence opinion but in most cases, people love indulging in a rumour.

Some people share fake news for strategic reasons, to sway or influence opinion. Most people use social media and related services for personal purposes, not to pursue a political agenda and therefore, most people share fake news for the sake of sharing, like indulging in the latest rumours.

We always do this as a social practice, online and offline, through gossip. Sharing is easy; Internet technologies are optimised to inspire sharing. In most of the instances, people don’t verify content, a lengthy and difficult process, but will relate to the topic and will assume that the topic is relevant to their online social contacts.

While this does not apply to trusted publishers, for websites powered by fake news, money is more important than fact checking and accuracy. Meanwhile, the current political climate has allowed fake news to prosper.

Politicians are outraged by so called fake news, but they are largely responsible for creating the environment in which it can flourish.

In other words, most people who consume fake news, consume “real” news too, and much more of it. In conclusion, the vast majority of people do not consume fake news, and of the minority that does, the vast majority consume much more real news too. As far as fake news does play a role, it is in providing legitimacy and support to long-held views by a relatively small group of intense, far right partisans.

This should make us rethink some of the current responses to the exaggerated “fake news epidemic”. The media should do a better job at offering meaningful journalism to people. Given that the vast majority of the electorate still get their news from the “mainstream media”, that means that if they are uninformed, that is the media’s fault. It doesn’t make sense to blame disinformation campaigns, which reach only a minority of people.

Anyways, a journalist needs to understand their moral duties towards the profession. Now when, one journalist who attempted an interdisciplinary approach by commenting on fake news ran into trouble. Tomorrow we will forget this incidence and the journalist too, she was known to people for the banner she lived with. Trust me no journalist ever is a popular figure if no banner power is there to back them.

Where will today’s journalism and its standards lead to, is doubtful!

(Any suggestions, comments or dispute with regards to this article send us on [email protected])

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Dr Vaidehi Taman
Dr Vaidehi an Accredited Journalist from Maharashtra is bestowed with Honourary Doctorate in Journalism, Investigative Journalist, Editor, Ethical Hacker, Philanthropist, and Author. She is Editor-in-Chief of Newsmakers Broadcasting and Communications Pvt. Ltd. for 11 years, which features an English daily tabloid – Afternoon Voice, a Marathi web portal – Mumbai Manoos, monthly magazines like Hackers5, Beyond The News (international) and Maritime Bridges. She is also an EC Council Certified Ethical Hacker, Certified Security Analyst and is also a Licensed Penetration Tester which caters to her freelance jobs.

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