Kolkata: Having a cup of tea, on a windy winter evening at the university, Pratik Sinha, the founder of Alt News, who is giving sleepless nights to fake news producers says, “We need to fight this menace even more sternly. With the 2019 General Election inching closer, the number or frequency of fake news being circulated via Facebook and WhatsApp will be on the rise.” Pratik, the man who has debunked hundreds of fake news through his now so-famous website, Alt News, in this post truth era, adds, “They need to be countered as they influence electoral choices, polarize opinions and of course creates an environment which is more conducive of creating social unrest at the slightest provocation.” He maintains that this is very much needed, as the chances of almost every political party using such news is on the rise with every passing day.
First time net users most vulnerable
With the ongoing telecom war in India and slashing down of internet charges and advent of Jio, internet has been able to reach the most remote areas of India. It is these newbie internet users, equipped with a smart phone or even a feature phone loaded with WhatsApp or Facebook, that are the most suitable consumers of fake news, warns Pratik Sinha. He states, “These people located in remote Indian villages neither know about Google or how to cross check facts. Add on to that their conditioning, which makes them susceptible to believing the fake news that is circulated these days. And that’s dangerous. They will believe the news being propagated by hate mongers or those wanting to make quick buck.” On being asked, how could certain people who refuse to believe or question the authenticity of fake news being circulated. He sadly adds, “Well, to be honest, there will always be a section, which will refuse to believe, till they suffer the loss.” Citing an example he says, “There was fan of mine, who kept calling me names on social media. He even used to message me about how biased I am. I chose to ignore him. And then viola, one day he messages me and tells me how correct I was. A chat with him revealed that he had lost his.”
Business of Fake News
Fact checking while doing stories is not the in thing maintains the fake news buster. “Today, revenue generation is the primary target. Even mainstream media, is falling to the click bait. Eye grabbing stories are more important, so what is fact checking is thrown out of the window,” he adds.
He reveals, that business follows a simple tenet – the more the number of clicks, the more foot fall for the website and the more the chances of generating revenue via ads. “This simple math is making fake news churners and at times even seasoned journalists to dish out half-baked news or half-truths,” he says. According to him fighting such fake news churners is not that easy. “We bust one site; they come up with another site and get as many followers and a bigger business. A little research revealed that most of these companies have set up multiple Facebook pages, dedicated to eminent personalities and ideologies. Interestingly, these pages have a huge fan following, which ultimately leads to a huge number of clicks, which boils down to great business,” he reveals.
WhatsApp the most lethal
According to this fake news buster, WhatsApp, is the most dangerous social media platform when it comes to sharing inciting posts, fake news or video content. “Unlike other tool of communication, WhatsApp offers end to end encryption facility to its users. This thereby makes it absolutely impossible for the police to trace the origin of fake news, when circulated on this platform,” reveals Pratik.
He adds that most of the inflammatory videos as in the case of Muzaffarnagar riots or the Bashirhaat riots or the lynching of Naeem Khan, was due rumours circulated via WhatsApp. According to him the only way to tackle fake news spread via WhatsApp is that the police to releases mass advisories to the common man aware of fake news.
Dealing with the menace
The three fake news busters of India—Alt News, Haox Slayer and Boom Live, fighting the epidemic, had recently raised the issue with Google at a global conference. Revealing the outcome he says, “Google has agreed to incorporate certain recommendations like adding on a word of warning to news uploaded by online portals, which have been marked as fake news producers. They also might run the news links of stories that debunk the claim of the fake news portal as suggested links. This has been incorporated in the United States, and will soon be implemented.”
He adds that dealing with the menace is not that easy. “We can’t expect Google to completely take off certain news as it might amount to violation of one’s right to freedom of expression. Same is the case with Facebook. However, Facebook has agreed to reduce the ranking of communities or groups that propagate hate via fake news,” says Pratik.