The danger of fake news is real
While it is inevitable that Indians — and Indian politicians — will continue to tap these technologies, all stakeholders must exercise far more caution and institute more correctives than they have so farUpdated: Nov 13, 2018 14:23 IST
Twitter’s co-founder and Chief Executive Officer, Jack Dorsey, is in India, engaging with both political actors and general audiences. In August, the CEO of Whatsapp, Chris Daniels, visited Delhi and engaged with the government. Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, has both visited India and hosted Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, at his headquarters.
The close engagement of leaders of some of the most revolutionary tools of communication with India is not a surprise. For these platforms, India is a huge market, and one that is only growing. The audiences they fetch here and the various ways in which they can monetise conversations on their platforms is now an indispensable part of their global business plans. For India, too, engaging with these platforms is essential. Take Twitter. It has changed the way political discourse is conducted in the country. Thanks to it, political leaders have found a way to communicate their views, without intermediaries. Social media supporters engage in deeply contested battles to push their narrative on all these platforms. And the mainstream media sometimes ends up playing catch up. But if Twitter operates at a relatively elite level, Whatsapp and Facebook have percolated down to the remotest corners of the country. The spread of cheap smartphones and, more importantly, affordable data has enabled this democratisation of information and communication. Political parties — some more than others — have recognised how this can shape beliefs, values and electoral choices and PM Modi is understood to have told his party that 2019 will be an election fought on Whatsapp.
This is all unchartered territory, however, and the perils of these tools have already become visible. Twitter has been home to hate speech; it is witness to the most vicious trolling and targeting of public figures. On Whatsapp, fake news is a real concern — and the circulation of rumours has led to a spate of killings and lynchings this year. Facebook was used — and misused — in the US elections of 2016 to spread fake news; there is a danger of this happening in India as well. Along with the democratisation, there has been a degeneration of the quality of public discourse. And the platforms have been able to do little to counter hate speech and fake news. All communication technology has had unpredictable consequences in human history. While it is inevitable that Indians — and Indian politicians — will continue to tap these technologies, all stakeholders must exercise far more caution and institute more correctives than they have so far.