The country mustn’t get entangled in a web of fake news

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Source- The post is based on the article “The country mustn’t get entangled in a web of fake news” published in the “mint” on 30th March 2023.

Syllabus: GS3- Role of Media and Social Networking Sites in Internal Security Challenges

Relevance– Issues related to misinformation and fake news

News– The events during the Covid19 shows the disrupting potential of fake news.

What are some examples related to the impact of fake news?

Fake news during the Covid hit the poultry sector hard. As per research note published by ICAR-Central Avian Research Institute, industry’s losses were over $3 billion.

According to the All India Poultry Breeders Association, Indian poultry farmers faced an average loss of about ₹50 per kg as a result of rumors.

The misinformation on the Indian poultry industry had socio-economic ramifications. Stakeholders operating at different levels of the value chain had multiple forms of impacts. They faced social and psychological distress.

Farmers could not sell their chicken for a long period of time during the pandemic. As procurement dropped sharply, they were left with culling as their only option. This led to both short- and long-term financial adversities for farmers.

How fake news works?

Fake news rarely works in isolation. A message that might look harmless has the potential to impact many livelihoods.

Research shows that misleading or manipulative information relies on psychological mechanisms. In times of anxiety, a defence mechanism could kick. It helps the mind to deny the seriousness of a threat.

Why does India need to act decisively to deal with fake news?

India has an estimated 850 million active internet users. This growth has seen a parallel boom of misinformation. NCRB shows a spike in fake news cases under Section 505 of the IPC across the country in 2020.

The fact-checking agency of Lok Sabha busted 1,160 rumours since its inception in November 2019.

Newschecker.in identified 2,824 instances of misinformation across nine languages in 2021 alone. Since a vast number of cases go unreported. The actual prevalence of the problem is significantly worse.

Artificial intelligence tools that create photo-realistic images have added to the menace.

India has had no specific legislation to regulate fake news. The government relies on insufficient provisions such as the Information Technology Act and IPC.

What is the way forward to deal with fake news?

Better campaigns aimed at generating media literacy among users of social media are needed.  It is incumbent upon all users, however, to identify fake news and think hard before we share anything over the internet.

The upcoming Digital India bill is expected to have measures against fake news. In framing rules, there is a need to understand the gravity of the problem.

The anticipated law itself does not end up becoming a weapon against free expression.

It is crucial for the bill to appropriately define the term ‘fake news’.

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