Fake news and its impact on society

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“Ashwathama Hatha …iti narova Kunjarova”

When the formidable Kuru warrior Dhronacharya turned out to be a big threat to the Pandava army in the battle of Kurukshethra , Krishna had come up with a plan to emotionally attack Dhrona by spreading the fake news that Dhrona’s  son Ashwathama is dead . He even used the ever truthful Yudhishitira  to substantiate this news and eventually managed to succeed in his plan as well.

Such vivid examples of fake news in the epic make us realize ,fake news ,as it turns out, is not a recent phenomenon which took birth with media, it was there in the society in one form or other. With the rise of media, the frequency and intensity of such news had a peak rise. But we cannot ignore the fact that misinformation, spin, lies and deceit have  been around forever.

The term “fake news” has emerged as a catch-all phrase to refer  everything from news articles that are factually incorrect to opinion pieces, parodies and sarcasm, hoaxes, rumors, memes, online abuse, and factual misstatements by public figures. News articles that purport to be factual, but which contain intentional misstatements of fact with the intention to arouse passions, attract viewership, or deceive will fall under this category.

Fake News History

During the first century BC, a series  of misinformation was spread against  Mark Antony by his rivals, portraying him as a drunkard,  womanizer and a puppet in the hands of Cleopatra the Egyptian queen. Antony ultimately killed himself, believing the false news that Cleopatra had committed suicide.

Fake news had always helped for establishing or tarnishing a particular religion or political group through out the history. Nazis even had recruited hundreds to plan and propagate fake news about the Jew community. When colonialism was at its peak, it was a common practice of the British to create fake news about the pathetic condition of the kingdoms that they are about to colonialize and picturize themselves as the saviors

In the early 19th century when modern newspapers started gaining acceptance The New York Sun had come up with a news about the alien civilization on the moon. Even though  this news is now called as the “Great Moon Hoax”  this played a vital role in establishing  the Sun as a leading profitable newspaper those days. In the 1890s, rival newspaper publishers Joseph Pulitzer and William Hearst competed over the audience through sensationalism and reporting rumors as though they were facts, a practice that later called as “yellow journalism.” Their incredulous news played a role in leading the US into the Spanish-American War of 1898

Categorization of fake news

Any fabricated information can be categorized as fake news .Basically its lie created out of nothing and shaped as if its genuine. The ultimate aim of all fake news is to deceive the receiver. It is interesting that the fake news providers  always tries to cover up with logical statements or provide false testimonials to make it look more genuine.  Fake news can be categorized based on their intention.

Marketing Fake News:  Its most common type of fake information that we will come across multiple almost everyday .That magical weight loss tablet, Wealth stone that brings wealth to your home, Miracle powder which whitens your skin in minutes will come under this category. We should clearly Just because our loved ones shared these kind of news or our favorite celebrity or youtuber promoted it cannot be true.

Political Fake News: Fake news spreading rate in this zone will have a rapid rise when the elections are nearing . Fake news degrading the morale of a candidate or false endorsement by renowned personalities is quite common categories under this section

Sensational Fake News : Certain fabricated news just gets spread because of the sensationalism in it. That five headed snake found near the temple, alien baby born to a couple in remote village etc are common news which are getting circulated through social medias every second. The creator is taking advantage of the curiosity in the reader/listener here.

Warning Fake News : Main intention is to create a fear among the people regarding something which does not really exists or matters at all.” 2 cups of coffee a day will kill your kidney”  kind of news will just make the naive reader panic and he will obviously pass on this “serious” message to his loved ones and the news will get spread in minutes deceiving a bunch of innocent people.

Racist /Sexist Fake News : Fake information released to spread hatred to a particular group of people will come under this category. It can be against a nation, a religion, a race or a sex . Early 19th century witnessed a lot of fake news saying Christianity is promoting black magic .Fake news about women especially when they are celebrity is quite common across the globe and the sad reality is people try to enjoy these even if they know it is not true.

Impact on society

By looking at these different categories of fake news we can clearly understand the impact they can make in our lives. It can be as simple as anxiety about our health, financial loss, hatred towards others ,but it can also go up to fear to live in the society which would ultimately affect the physical and emotional health of an individual and will have a serious affect on the society as well.

A generation ago, information that appeared in print enjoyed a certain legitimacy whatever the source, but today,  people tend to trust and believe those closest to themselves, and end up in their own echo chamber. The danger lies in the ease of falsifying online content, from plausible but imaginary newspaper web sites to photoshopping images and using machine learning and artificial intelligence to create ‘deep fake’ video footage for political or other purposes. The World Economic Forum warned multiple times on  that so called ‘digital wildfires’, that is, unreliable information going viral online (aka fake news) would be one of the biggest threats faced by society. We can go through the detailed level of impact the fake news have in our society

  1. Political Impact  :  US presidential election is always associated with a wide range of fake news outbreak. There have been extensive discussions on fake news in the political world in  as most people have read about the potential Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election. There was even a news spread  that the Hon. Pop of Vatican  had announced his support to Donald Trump and requested followers to vote for him. Same fake news will be used also for tarnishing the image of a candidate through false allegations about him/her. This is happening all around the world and had also became an accepted reality among public which they still find hard to differentiate.
  2. Health impact : With the arise of social media anyone can come up with medical remedies and solution for any kind of diseases. There were a lot of instances like this reported especially during the initial stages of COVID19 outbreak. It is extremely dangerous to blindly  try out the “social media doctor” advises because even if  whatever they preach had worked for few, there is no guarantee on how it will affect your body. A proper awareness needs to be spread on this topic especially because of its huge impact on the society.
  3. International impact :  In May 2017 Qatar’s state news agency claimed that its Twitter account had been compromised, and hackers had published fake comments allegedly made by the ruler of Qatar  criticizing aspects of US and Arab Gulf foreign policy towards Iran. Although the news agency was quick to label the comments as false, this did not prevent neighboring countries severing diplomatic ties with the country. It is intimidating to imagine the after effect of such events if it happened between two countries which already had a political rift between them.
  4. Financial impact : The financial markets as a whole can be greatly altered if a fake news story gains enough traction and is widely spread and believed, which causes the potential for a great threat. One of the recent  fake news that has had an overwhelming and extensive impact on India’s economy claimed that “eating chicken caused COVID-19”.The impact on the poultry industry in India led to stunning losses of Rs 1,500-2000 crores a day with prices falling from average  180 rupees per kg of chicken to just 40-60 rupees. Drastic action by the farmers saw day-old chicks buried alive to avoid having to continue feeding them when future demand was predicted to drop significantly.

Reasons for wide spread of fake news

Before deciding own the ways to solve a problem we should first understand what is the real cause of the problem. Let us first analyze the reasons for this wide spread of fake news in the society.

  • Rise of Social media : Even with all its advantages, social media had provided a safe and anonymous platform for many where they can fearlessly spread fake information or rumors.
  • Lack of legislation :  the lack of stringent law against the spreading of false information is primary reason behind alarming rise of fake news all around the world.
  • Unawareness of  social media best practices : A vast majority of the public is completely unaware on how to discriminate a fake news
  • Erosion of media ethics : Modern medias have turned to be mere puppets in the hands of political parties and business tycoons so that the news that they provide will be completely biased.

How to deal with fake news?

Knowing the primary causes for the spread of fake news and how far its impact can go , the next step is to see how can we effectively deal with it. There can be multiple solutions and best practices for this, we shall discuss them one by one.

  1. Creating awareness : The most basic step in handling the fake news is creating awareness among the public. The strength of social media can be made use to achieve this. Best practices to be followed while using social media needs to be communicated to the public where they should follow certain basics before acting up on or sharing a news which are
    1. Verify the source of information
    2. Check the date of the news
    3. Don’t get deceived by the catchy headings read beyond
    4. Expand the sources of information
    5. Cross check with experts before taking any action
    6. Report the fake news in social media platforms like Facebook
  1. Strengthening the legal framework : Very less rate of conviction for spreading the false news has been a big motivation for the creators. A probability analysis will give less than 5 % chance for being convicted for this crime. Technology is evolving every single minute , laws need to be dynamic to include the possible threats arising from this. Then only cyber crimes including the fake news creation and spreading can be dealt effectively.
  1. Deal it Technically :Even though tech giants like Facebook ad Google had taken some elementary steps like flagging or reporting a content , a more effective method by utilizing the machine learning capabilities can be adapted to design algorithms which detect and filter fake news. This needs to be ever evolving process as algorithms will always have counter algorithms within few days of implementation.
  1. Have a clear response plan : Businesses are regular targets of online disinformation campaigns that can have an enormous impact on brand reputation and financial bottom lines. To effectively mitigate these campaigns, your business must have a response plan.

As the response time is vital , importance should be given to this area as well.

It’s a mere fact that even if we employ all these strictly wiping out fake news from the society is next to impossible. It may be possible to rebut fake news but the ‘fake news factory’ inspired by political agenda, will keep churning out similar stories to advance its chosen narrative. But we will definitely be able to considerably reduce the frequency and intensity of fake news by following such measures.

Name              : Lakshmi M Das 

Company       : Allianz Technology Trivandrum

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