Dealing with fake news, misinformation and hate speech
In the words of former CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt, “Internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn’t understand”. And indeed we have become more vulnerable to manipulation by digital misinformation because of the complex social, economic and algorithmic biases developed over time.
Despite the efforts being put in towards making the web a safer place, the internet has become an “Echo Chamber” where misinformation, fake news, hoaxes and baseless information thrive. According to a global study conducted in 2019, 62% of the respondents felt that there was a fair extent or great deal of fake news on online websites and platforms. In 2020, there was a 214% hike in the number of fake news/ false news/ rumors, in India, there were 1,527 cases of fake news reported in 2020 against 468 in 2019 and 280 in 2018. And seeing that there are 700 million internet users in the country, the numbers might rise in the coming years.
How are we consuming this information
We all have a few people in our social media networks who share absurd information, such as "the United Nations is serving free food", "the government is giving out free insurance" or blatant claims about the effects of a medicine against a serious health issue. But why does this happen, when a quick search can verify if the news is fake or not? Is it difficult to spot the truth?
There are several reasons why we fall prey to fake news. When we see information that agrees with our beliefs, we buy it automatically and hence share it with others. This leads to the formation of a “Confirmation Bias”. Another reason could be the easy availability of misinformation. We get a mix of cheap, fabricated information and reliable news from honest resources on the same platform, which makes it difficult to discern.
How to combat fake news and misinformation
False news is dangerous because it can affect public opinion and normalize prejudices. How do we ensure our safety when a post about a pizza gets viral before the said pizza is delivered? We need to find an effective way to break the transmission chain, check for the credibility of a post and correct the information and educate the vulnerable targets. Misleading or false posts often have a clear bias, which is to get a reaction from the reader. Be wary about sharing a post online that might inspire strong feelings or perpetuate a misunderstanding. Carefully scrutinize the content shared in the post, if it seems outlandish, or simply lacks the sense of truth, check for the accuracy of the story online.
At Turn the Bus, we are not just focused on imparting academic knowledge in high school students of Bihar who are 1st generation Smartphone users. But we are also trying to improve their level of critical thinking and make civic use of the internet.