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Fake news: A social monster


The internet and social media created a hyper interconnectedness among people which in turn has fueled a surge in misleading data causing new disruptions

On Monday, the Rajasthan Police Twitter handle @PoliceRajasthan posted a terse tweet “Mr @omshantiom1231 — we’ve taken a grim view of the fake video that you shared & labelled it an incident from #RajasthanPolice. You be warned that such malicious acts can get you in the ambit of law and in clutches of #RajasthanPolice.” This person had earlier posted a tweet with a gruesome video of a women being brutally killed and labelled it as an incident in Rajasthan. The police was quick to act after verifying from @SMHoaxSlayer that the video was indeed a fake one. The Hoax Slayer is a wonderful initiative and helps people identify such fake videos.

While this hoax was blown off, there are many which are not. One such fake news on child lifters who were harvesting organs of kidnapped created so much panic that a mob lynched a man in Chamarajpet in Bengaluru. Earlier a mob of villagers at Athimoor near Polur in Tiruvannamalai district  killed a 65-year-old woman Rukmani mistaking her for a child lifter. Two more cases of such mob killings were reported from the nearby Vellore district. All these incidents were reported in May. Many parts of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Telangana were rocked with similar rumors posing a mob crisis for the police. Karnataka Chief Minister took to Twitter to appeal to people “not to pay heed to rumours on child kidnappers.”

“Fake news is a new social monster that has posed a unique challenge for the police and society. While we are gearing up to deal with social media terrorists seeding fake news, it is critical that all stakeholders in society come together to tackle the menace and not allow it to spread its insidious tentacles,” said Pankaj Kumar Singh, Additional Director General of  Police, Rajasthan. “Though not a new phenomenon, with the fast and furious nature of the cyber world it has taken epidemic proportions. Sadly in India as many unaware users come online every day we observe many devastating outcomes of fake news,” says Amitabh Kumar, founder Twee Surfing, Social Surfing, and serving on the safety advisory board of Twitter and Facebook.

True. This is a huge challenge for society at large, not confined to the Indian context only but across the world. Fake news is a new virus that crossed all borders and poses a grave risk for us all, all the time. “The social media has acted as a soft conduit for fake news and its perpetrators to flourish,” says IPS Officer and SP of Mirzapur (Uttar Pradesh) Ashish Tiwari, who is also an IITian, known for driving technology innovations in policing. Fake news has become a new tool of personal, professional and political vendetta. The internet and social media have created a rare hyper interconnectedness among people which in turn has fueled a surge in unwanted, false and misleading information causing a new disruption. Little surprise, everyone including police organisations is waking up to this menace.

Rajasthan Police, according to Singh, decided to be on a “lookout for such miscreants 24X7.” The Jogulamba Gadwal district police in Telangana initiated a community outreach programme under the supervision of IPS officer and SP Rema Rajeshwari. “We have deployed our teams across the district to keep in constant touch with community leaders and people to sensitize them on the need to check facts. Constant dialogue is critical as we brace up to deal with the challenge posed by fake news,” she said. “We have launched a dedicated Twitter handle @uppviralcheck to verify and rebut fake news attributed to Uttar Pradesh police. We have successfully used it in a couple of cases and it has received very good response from people,” informs Rahul Srivastava, Addl SP & PRO, Uttar Pradesh police.

The Assam police created a Cyberdome, which is an enhanced virtual patrolling to neutralise inflammatory contents, while the Hyderabad police developed an app HawkEye which allows users to lodge a complaint if they come across an objectionable post.

While all these measures are good, experts also call for strengthening laws to deal with fake news. West Bengal Cadre IPS officer Hari Kishore Kusumakar says, “Fake news isn’t accidental but is actually spread intentionally by people with vested interests. A penal section should be inserted in the IT Act for spreading fake photos or videos on social media platforms. There may also be merit in enacting a new Computer Crime Penal Code with a special section on Social Media related crimes.”

We live in challenging times. In addition to new kinds of threats to society, fake news and social media related crimes are causing enormous strain and we must deal with it effectively.

PS: Given the enormity of the subject, the writer wishes to take up the many facets associated with fake news menace and will do so in subsequent editions.

By Navneet Anand
(The writer is a strategic communications professional)

Courtesy: Daily Pioneer


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