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Fact-check your forwards to keep misinformation at bay

At a time when various social media platforms are being used to pass off rumours as news, it is crucial we fight back by browsing responsibly.

gurgaon Updated: Feb 25, 2019 12:08 IST
Neela Kaushik
Neela Kaushik
whatsapp,misinformation,fake news
Be it WhatsApp or any other social media platforms, more accountability needs to be brought in, as people read and forward messages mindlessly.(Bloomberg / Photo used for representational purpose)

My aunty was telling me how bored she gets sometimes. I suggested she start pursuing one of her interests or hobbies. I also mentioned how she can pick up a few magazines and read those in her spare time. This can help her stay updated on what’s current and come in handy while making interesting conversations with friends. Aunty immediately said, “But I get everything on my phone now. All news I get is from there”.

I asked myself, how can I underestimate my aunty, and further inquired what applications she uses. She mentioned the name of an XYZ news app, and then what she mentioned put me in a state of shock. She said she gets all her news from WhatsApp! I am one of the affected people on her list, who gets bombarded with these spams on a daily basis. Our decent requests fall on deaf ears. Sometimes, she takes it personally as well. Those on her list have to silently endure this. Only today, I realised how seriously she takes the misinformation or disinformation that gets forwarded. My aunty is a graduate and a retired teacher.

Internet apps and social media, as we all know, have their advantages and disadvantages. I cannot tell if the advantages outweigh the disadvantages (or vice versa). The fact is that it is dependent upon the actual usage and not the intention.

God bless WhatsApp for introducing the limit on forwarding messages to five individuals or groups. This was originally brought in to counter the misinformation and disinformation spreading over WhatsApp. However, I wish they had brought in a few more security features.

Be it WhatsApp or any other social media platforms, more accountability needs to be brought in, although I don’t know how. People read and forward messages mindlessly. When you try telling the person what they forwarded was untrue, they wash off their responsibility by saying it was just a forward. Another irritating thing is outdated news, which is still in circulation. That is such a nuisance. Especially, when you see a forward that says a pet is available for adoption or a child is missing. It is very hard to tell how old the news is or just ignore the news and not forward it.

How many of us are aware of or seek the help of fact-checking organisations to verify whether the information we are consuming is real or fake?

Recent polls confirm that social media platforms are now seen as some of the most trusted and important news sources for many. Sometimes, people just skim through the feed, read the headlines and move on. Unfortunately more often than not, these headlines are sensationalised to attract clicks. Unless we have read the entire piece, we just cannot assume what the news item is. We are also naturally inclined to share, forward or engage with a news item or a post, if there is an emotional connect to the issue or if we strongly want to be seen associated with a particular issue.

Another very disturbing trend is people sharing and seeking medical information without a second thought. Desperate moms post their medical queries to online communities, hoping to get information or help. What we sometimes forget is that every bodily constitution is different. What may work for one, may misfire for another. It is okay to share experiences. Any medical advice or recommendation should be followed only after a consultation with a qualified medical professional.

We see so many diets being exchanged. How often do we go that extra mile to see , if the person recommending the diet has the necessary credentials to do so.

With elections nearing, we must become all the more conscious of what we share and consume. This is the period when misinformation or disinformation seems to fill the media space, leave alone social media networks and private messaging apps.

While accessibility to information is definitely a boon, it is important we check for the source. It will also be helpful to be selective about your sources. When and where required, always consult a professional. Social media can only be a guide and can never replace accredited or certified professionals. Happy Browsing !

(An advocate of women’s rights, Neela Kaushik started a Facebook community called Gurgaon Moms to create a local support network for mothers in the city. Today, it has more than 25,000 members.)

First Published: Feb 25, 2019 12:04 IST