Akshat Agarwal, Legal Analyst, Koan Advisory
At a FICCI Frames discussion moderated by Ms. Madhu Trehan, founder of NewsLaundry, prominent journalists and fact-checkers sought to address the prevalent issue of fake news in India. Fake news has led to repeated incidents of mob-violence across the country and impacted electoral politics by misinforming voters.
Identifying and Countering Fake News
Mr. Lyric Jain, CEO of Logically, pointed out that the term ‘fake news’ itself is broad and vague, used to describe different kinds of content – from political propaganda to misinformation to deliberately malicious disinformation. Mr. Govindraj Ethiraj, founder of BOOM Factcheck, spoke of how people latch on to developing events and use related fake news to further political or communal agendas. Elaborating on Logically’s methods, Mr. Jain described how AI and machine learning can be trained to identify patterns that are typically indicative of fake news. Network analysis is another method, involving identification of bad accounts from where large volumes of fake news originates. Mr. Pratham Mittal, introduced his platform, Neta App, which allows users to rate political candidates and carries opinion polls and surveys.
Who’s Responsibility is it Anyway?
Ms. Trehan pointed out that the Indian news media suffers from a trust deficit – citizens are no longer believing what they read in mainstream publications. Therefore she proposed that journalists should assume a greater responsibility for countering fake news. Ms. Monica Nayyar Patnaik, Managing Director of Sambad Group was of the view that while a journalist can only tell one side of the story, it is for the consumer to decipher what is and is not true. Mr. BV Rao, Editor in Chief of Firstpost said that journalists can do little to address fake news given the scale at which it is produced and consumed, and that the solution therefore lies in raising levels of awareness and education in civil society. Social media sites need to be responsible, said Mr. Mittal, who spoke of how algorithms offer up more fake news once a user clicks on one such item, effectively trapping them in a vicious cycle. Of special concern are Chinese news aggregators such as UC News. In the face of hyper-targeted campaigns of misinformation, however, Mr. Jain said that users of such aggregator platforms should not be excepted to develop greater levels of awareness given that they typically face a scarcity of time, motivation and ability. In such a scenario, fact-checking organisations are indispensable.