Why it is hard for Indian government to curb fake news

By Wang Li Source:Global Times Published: 2018/7/17 19:53:39

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cracker bein sport android In the age of social media, fake news has become a worldwide concern. UN human rights experts have accused social networking sites such as Facebook of playing a key role in spreading hate speech against penumbra black plague crack no cd in Myanmar. Fake news on social media also influences India's democratic politics and daily life. This year, rumors on WhatsApp have been linked to lynchings in the country, which has further increased nervousness.

In early July, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEIT) of India issued a statement urging WhatsApp to take steps to prevent the spread of fake news. Local governments have also taken measures such as uploading educational videos on social platforms and hiring street performers to perform in the countryside to raise awareness against fraud.

WhatsApp responded to the ministry by saying that it has introduced new functions, such as allowing group administrators to decide who can send messages. However, it is not easy to crack down on fake news on social media, especially on WhatsApp, in India.

First, the Indian social media user base is large and extensive. According to the Internet and Mobile Association of India, the number of internet users in India was expected to reach 500 million by June; the growth rate of rural users far exceeds that in urban areas. This means that a large number of social media users come from rural areas with lower literacy levels, and so chances of false news spreading are high.

Second, it's difficult to supervise WhatsApp which has more than 200 million users in India who send billions of messages every day. In addition, WhatsApp adopts end-to-end encryption, which makes it difficult for a third party to track the message delivery. Thus, compared to Facebook and Twitter, WhatsApp is the main source of fake news circulating in India.

Third, there is a social cause. Under India's social system, it is easy for false news to take a life of its own.

With the joint family as the basic unit traditionally and the caste system as the social structure of Indian society, Indians are more closely linked on the basis of division of labor (Jajmani system) and feeling a stronger sense of belonging in their own communities than other societies. In this way, driven by a natural and strong cultural instinct, when a false message comes from a family member, a friend or a community to which people belong, its "credibility" and "contagiousness" is greatly improved.

There may be political forces behind the production and propagation of fake news. Owing to a wide reach and low cost, social media has become an important tool for political parties. Reports about making and disseminating fake news for manipulating public opinion are not uncommon in India. For example, promoting a Hindutva agenda and creating communal polarization to gain votes has been an important strategy in Indian elections.

Alt News, an Indian fact-checking website established in 2017, found that organized and planned fake news aimed at inciting communal or sectarian hatred has intensified as India's 2019 general election approaches.

Swati Chaturvedi, a senior journalist who has worked for several media outlets in the country, also disclosed in her 2016 book, I Am A Troll, how the Bharatiya Janata Party uses social media to spread hate speech and discredit political opponents.

It is hard for the Indian government to enforce regulations when its official credibility and authority continues to decline. On the one hand, those in power cover up or even sponsor false stories; on the other, those institutions which can limit their power - such as media organizations - are constantly being weakened. This has caused mistrust among the public against information provided by the government and media.

Under such circumstances, whether the Indian government can smoothly enforce regulatory measures and the extent to which it can contain damage caused by fake news is thrown into doubt.

It is easy for the ruling party to label news unfavorable to it as "false news." Regulation can also be seen as impeding freedom of speech.

On April 2, India's Ministry of Information and Broadcasting announced that it would impose penalties on journalists who spread "false news." Although the rule was withdrawn after one day, it is still seen as an attempt by the government to suppress negative reports before the next year's general election, and as contrary to the democratic spirit of India.

Just as WhatsApp's response to MEIT said, "We believe that false news, misinformation and the spread of hoaxes are issues best tackled collectively: by government, civil society and technology companies working together," there's still a long, long battle ahead for India to curb the spread of false information online.

The author is an associate research fellow of the Center for Indian Studies at China West Normal University and a postgraduate of Jawaharlal Nehru University. [email protected]


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