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Volume IconWhat are new-age fake news and misinformation?

Misinformation and fake news spread quickly on social media, ducking even the trained eyes. It also sees a drastic jump during the elections. Our next report finds out more about the age-old menace

ImageBhaswar Kumar New Delhi
Fake News

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National Crime Records Bureau data showed that incidents of fake news and rumour circulation saw nearly a three-fold rise in 2020 over 2019.

A total of 1,527 cases of fake news were recorded in 2020, compared to 486 cases in 2019 and 280 cases in 2018. Clearly, fake news and misinformation are a growing menace in India. But, what exactly qualifies as fake news? Let us find out.

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A lot of things you read online, especially in your social media feeds, might appear to be true. But often, they are not.

Especially misleading are articles that read like and look like a news article. But, in fact, they are only mimicking a news article and are deliberately promoting false information.

That is the strict and narrow definition, which says that any news article that is verifiably and intentionally false, and has been designed to manipulate your perception of real events, facts, and statements, qualifies as fake news.

The phenomenon of fake news is closely associated with politics, especially in places where it is highly partisan.

Therefore, some experts recommend that we avoid using the term fake news, as its close association with politics can lead to a very narrow definition that might not be adequate in describing the diverse forms of misinformation that are prevalent today.

Instead, the term false information or misinformation might be preferable since it can refer to a diverse range of disinformation on topics such as the environment, health, and economics across all platforms and genres.

While fake news is narrowly understood as false political news stories, the term misinformation, for example, can also cover WhatsApp forwards containing rumours and altered images. This broader definition is especially helpful when dealing with fake news and misinformation in the Indian context.

According to experts, most misinformation in India comes in the form of images and videos, where the attached text blurb is most often the source of the misinformation. And, these are shared overwhelmingly over WhatsApp on mobile phones.

Images and videos on the internet are often re-purposed to change their original context and then used to spread misinformation.  

For example, Pakistani social media handles on February 27, 2019, shared a video which claimed to be showing a captured Indian Air Force pilot. These posts came after Pakistan claimed that it had shot down two Indian aircraft inside its airspace and arrested one pilot.

However, an Alt News analysis of the video found that it was dated back to February 19. A day before the Aero India Show in Bengaluru when two Surya Kiran copters crashed during rehearsal, killing one pilot and injuring two others. The video shared on Pakistani social media was actually of a civilian in Bengaluru comforting one of the injured pilots who had parachuted out of his aircraft.

Similarly, in January 2019, a viral video on Twitter gave viewers the impression that Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal was drunk. In fact, Kejriwal was sober in the video, which had instead been edited mischievously. So, experts advise people to be vigilant and question the information presented. 


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First Published: Feb 24 2022 | 8:45 AM IST

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