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This article is written by Pranav R, pursuing B.Com L.L.B.(Hons.) from the School of Law, SASTRA University. This exhaustive article deals with the effects of disinformation and possible solutions to combat fake news.

Introduction

Fake News is false information that is communicated with underlying propaganda to deceive the users of the information. Fake news is one of the easiest ways to achieve fame and money. Social media is often used as the tool to disseminate various false news which drastically impacts the opinion of people. Violence, protests, and riots are some of the effects of disinformation and fake news.

Fake news as a threat to national security

Fake news are misleading false statements that are spread to influence people and react in an intended way. Fake news has the characteristic of appearing to be true and authentic. They are portrayed in such a way that makes people believe. Fake news can pose the following threats to the nation:

  1. Fake news that has clear political agendas can weaken the democratic setup for the country.
  2. Spreading false news in the form of false criticism about the government’s policy to the people can influence the people’s opinion on government and could have a huge impact on the faith of people on the government.
  3. Spreading untrue interpretation of government policy to enrage a particular group of people can cause massive violence. Rumours about the Cauvery water dispute are one of the reasons which caused violence in India.
  4. Spreading false information which creates conflict between two religious communities.

The recent Palghar mob lynching where two Hindu Sadhus was attacked by the group of villagers who suspected them to be thieves. The incident was interpreted differently and rumours were spread which developed hatred between Hindu and Muslims. Later, the truth was revealed that both the attackers and victims belonged to the same religion.

  1. Fake news creators frame the news in such a way which makes people react in a violent form. A massive protest converts into violent forms that disturb the public tranquillity.
  2. Since all government records are available online, cybercriminals often edit and spread false information about the government to create violence in the country.

Constant violence, distrust of people in government are some of the effects of the spread of fake news which is a huge threat to the country. Fake news creates a huge impact on people which makes it very difficult for the government to make people believe in the truth and true intentions behind a particular policy. 

Fake news as a business model

  1. Fake news has not only brought down the credibility of several businesses but also has been instrumental to raise the credibility of businesses to influence shareholders to invest in the company.
  2. News channels that have high regard to their TRP rating mislead the public by giving false information. The attitude of the media is to only grab the attention of the people that can be seen right from conveying false news on the declaration of a holiday to schools by the government due to rain. News channels increase their profit and popularity by using the weapon of fake news thus, being a successful business model to the News Industry.
  3. Fake news has also helped the media and other social media to mint money by disseminating false information. People who want to maintain their anonymity and at the same time want to create fake news, take the help of those hackers who use bots to spread information. These bots are not real social media user accounts and such bot accounts create artificial popularity of the fake message which intends to be conveyed and grab the attention of the people. Thus, fake news is also a powerful weapon for hackers to make money.

Thus, fake news is an emerging business model that takes an evil disguise in the form of a “marketing technique”.

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Fake news and cyber propaganda

Cyber propaganda is nothing but the usage of computer or computer networks to convey a message designed to influence the targeted audience to think and behave in a certain manner. All fake news have propaganda behind it, which intent the social media users to react in a particular way. Propaganda is nothing but an agenda or targeted message to reach targeted users. Sometimes cyber propaganda can be a valuable message which ought to be conveyed to the public for public welfare or sometimes with a malafide intention to defame a person or disseminate fake news for popularity, money, or with a goal to mislead. Fake news is one of the weapons or tactics for cyber propaganda. 

Promoting Cyber propaganda through fake news proves effective in the following ways: 

  1. Active usage of social media by people and disseminating fake news in social media has a very high impact on people and the cyber propaganda disguised in the form of news spreads instantly. 
  2. The fake news which has been spread could be very realistic and true in the eyes of users by supporting the news with evidence such as morphed pictures and edited videos. 

Fake news such as “Pope Francis endorses Donald Trump for President”, “Hilary sold weapons to ISIS” are some of the fake news which went viral on several social media in the event of the US 2016 Presidential election. There are three main factors that are important for successful propaganda. 

  • Motivation

Motivation is nothing but the objective that is the target message which should be made viral to reach people. The fake news is the objective itself and the meaning of the fake news itself hints the motive of the creator. In today’s world, the optimum attention of the reader is very short. So all fake news headlines are made catchy enough to grab the attention of the reader and at the same time convey the message intended. Defamation, profit through high TRP rating, fame are some of the basic underlying motives for fake news. 

  • Tools 

There are so many tools that are available to promote fake news. Paid subscribers, fake likes, comments on posts, paid followers are some of the tools which are used to create and promote fake news. These tools are more efficient and guarantee quality because they use robots instead of humans. Due to the rapid growth in usage of social media, this industry has gained an undue advantage and has facilitated the promotion of fake news. People prefer to use these tools rather than the traditional mode of advertising because of three reasons:

  1. Cost-effective because it is cheaper than advertising. 
  2. To maintain anonymity to avoid legal consequences.
  3. Credibility. 

Since these tools offer these advantages, the spread of fake news is faster to the intended audience and has a great influence on people even today.

  • Popular and widely used social media platforms

Information to be communicated needs the support of the media. With an increase in usage of technology and smartphones, all people read the daily news in many news blogs or sometimes even in social media. Since social media and news have access to people around the globe, it is the fastest medium and widely reached medium to convey messages. So all fake news which intends reaction from people is majorly posted on popular blogs and social media. Social media are the backbone of the fake news industry. Social media records people’s preference for information and records the choices of people. So any fake news which is an area of interest to a user is posted in the recommended column. The user views and shares the same fake news to all other people he or she knows who has the same interest on the topic. This is exactly how social media is a prudent communication medium that helps to transmit fake news. The social media users fall bait to popularity and promoters of fake news use this as an advantage by influencing the user to share the information for more followers and likes. The saddest reality is that social media owners could never distinguish the real and fake accounts to control fake news. 

These are the key essential factors for successful cyber propaganda disguised in the form of fake news to reach people. 

Fight against fake news

Fight by government

The world has been facing a huge problem with the effect of fake news. Sedition, conspiracy, riot, and other offences are the consequences of fake information that enrage people. Fake news affects the innocent public at large where many people die in the communal riots created by fake news. The fight to control fake news is real and necessary.

Legislations in India to control Fake news

  1. Section 505(1) of Indian Penal Code punishes anyone who publishes or circulates any statement, rumour or report which may cause fear or alarm to the public, or to any section of the public, shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.
  2. Section 66D of InformationTechnology act punishes people who by means for any communication device or computer resource cheats by personating with the imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine which may extend to one lakh rupees.
  3. Section 54  of the Disaster Management Act punishes people who make or circulate a false alarm or warning as to disaster or its severity or magnitude, leading to panic with the Imprisonment which may extend to one year or with fine.

Legislation in the world to control fake news 

  •  Singapore

On 8th May 2019, the government of Singapore passed Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act, which prohibits fake statements of facts in the country of Singapore. Section 7 of this Act deals with the offence of spreading false information. A fine up to S$50,000 and/or a term of imprisonment up to 5 years is imposed on any person who spreads fake news.

  • Russia 

In Russia, Article 207 of the Criminal Code was amended which imposed fines on people as well legal entities such as the media if found spreading false information which affects the safety of the public. 

  • France

France passed  Proposed Organic Law Against Manipulation of Information, No. 772, and Proposed Bill on the Fight Against the Manipulation of Information, No. 799 in light of the presidential election to control the spread of Disinformation.

Many other countries such as Malaysia and Germany have framed anti fake news laws to fight back the growing infodemic. 

Fight by Social Media

Social media is also a victim of fake news. Social media has taken various step to fight disinformation and fake news:

  1. Twitter has updated its guidance on combatting medical disinformation. Facebook has taken active steps to remove videos that mislead the public and recently in disinformation given by Brazilian President on treating COVID and misleading speech to ignore social distancing was removed.
  2. Facebook which also owns Instagram has also taken active steps to delete all information and videos which are fake. 

Possible solutions

Everybody plays an active role in spreading disinformation. It is the responsibility of all to help to curb the harm of disinformation and fake news. 

Responsibility of technological companies

  1. Technology firms should invest in technology to find fake news and identify it for users through algorithms and crowdsourcing.
  2. These companies shouldn’t make money from fake news manufacturers and should make it hard to monetize hoaxes.

Responsibility of the government

  1. One of the most important things governments around the world can do is to encourage independent, professional journalism. 
  2. The government should avoid censoring and curtailing the fundamental right of expression.

Responsibility of the News industry

  1. Focus on building high quality, reliable content to attract viewers rather than resorting to fake news strategy.
  2. News organisations should be bold enough to point out the disinformation rather than legitimising it.

Responsibility of education institutions

  1. It is the responsibility of the educational institutions to educate children to differentiate between reliable and disinformation.
  2. Courses should be included which aim to educate children on how to use online information and how to be an informed consumer of online information.

Responsibility of public

  1. Priority should be given to know the truth. Readers should first realise that everything which they watch and read is not true.
  2. Share, tweet, or forward information only after making sure it is completely reliable.
  3. Reading but not reacting is one of the most important things everyone should practice to reduce violence based on disinformation and fake news.    

Conclusion

Fake News could appear realistic if told reliably. However, only truth has the power to stand alone irrespective of how unnoticeable it could be. The media and news industry should resort to ethical practices and should try making the truly interesting and viral rather than fabricating the truth to make it interesting. Journals, media are respected organs in a democracy which represent the people and should always work for the public good. In the era of the deteriorating trust of people on media, it is high time social media and the news industry understand that people always want to know the truth. Every attempt to grab their attention by adopting fake news strategy will only result in distrust and hatred. Thus, the government and media are the most important pillars of democracy which should always function with public welfare in mind.

References


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