The session started with a presentation by Pratik Sinha of altnews.in – a media watchdog website. He demonstrated an app available for fact-checking images and videos. Social media platforms can upload images onto the app which are then checked for veracity. Pratik pointed out that if altnews could do this using fairly simple technology, why can’t large platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp do such fact-checking before allowing videos to be uploaded?
Why is there such an eager consumption of fake news? Pratik Sinha opined that it’s usually provocative news like violence and murder that are more likely to be retweeted. Political misinformation gets propagated depending on the political atmosphere in the country and it’s an organised industry that helps push such fake news. Alternately, feel-good news is also easily shared on media like Whatsapp. Fear is another reason that news can spread.
“Sensationalism will sell,” said Santosh Desai. The “news” houses over the years have become institutionalised and therefore are self-validating authorities. Today, the consumer tends to believe news pieces depending on who is bringing the news.
Falsehood spreads like wildfire but the truth moves far slowly. Pratik Sinha said that it’s frustrating that technology companies are not doing more to fact-check and stepping in to control the situation. What can they do more proactively? Govindraj Ethiraj of factchecker.in said that there are instances where technology is being used to vet such situations. He gave the example of the live streaming during the Christchurch shooting. People were questioning the visuals, “hoping that this was not true”. The video went viral on all platforms. Today a technology called Incident Commander scans news from dependable sources and a platform like YouTube will upload content which has been authenticated by this technology.
What are the methods to control the fast penetration of fake news? Pratik Sinha said that technology has a very important role to play. The phone is a medium that is the easiest catalyst and simple technology could be used to curb that. Govind Ethiraj’s stand was that people need to be educated, including seniors and children. Media literacy and wisdom need to be entrenched at the school level. “Don’t jump to Wikipedia for every research question that needs to be answered.”
Santosh Desai closed the discussion by saying that today everyone has a voice which has led to an explosion of information. Technology is not able to keep up with this rate of acceleration. Pressure needs to be kept up on technology companies to do more, so that through technology itself, this imbalance can be addressed.