Why does fake news gain momentum faster than actual news?

Social Media Sep 13, 2021

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In recent times, fake news has been associated with social media though it has been around in the mainstream for a long time. The term has been defined as news stories that are false. This means that there are no facts, sources and/or quotes to verify the story, or the story itself is fabricated or manipulated.

Take the example of Sudhir Chaudhary, the editor-in-chief of Zee News, who after the demonetization in 2016 reported that the new 2000 rupee notes have a chip in them that would help the RBI trace them even if buried underground. This claim was delivered as “news” despite there being no evidence to substantiate it.

While dealing with fake news, misinformation and disinformation are often used interchangeably but misinformation refers to false or inaccurate information which has no intent to deceive, whereas disinformation is created deliberately to obscure the truth and influence public opinion.

To put it into perspective, a comedian’s parody could be considered misinformation since it may be perceived as information rather than entertainment while having no intention to do so.

On the other hand, disinformation involves:

  • Misleadingly framing information
  • Impersonating a genuine source to sound credible
  • Fabricating or altering news
  • Creating false connections to insinuate an idea
  • Sharing genuine information under a false pretence

Now that we know what fake news is, we have to ask- why do people falsify information? Propaganda is an important aspect that shapes fake news.

Information may be fabricated/spread to malign an individual’s character or reputation. Take the media trial of Rhea Chakraborty, for example, which levelled allegations of money laundering, drug peddling, and murder; based mostly on speculations.

On the other end of the spectrum, fake news is propagated to amplify an individual’s greatness. This is often observed in politics as a tactic to gain support or votes.

Fake news needn’t always be completely untrue. Sometimes factual information is contorted to fit the desired narrative or some information is left out, making it ambiguous. To understand this, we can use the example of the statement, “The government has electrified all villages across India.” This is true, but if reported as is, the story would leave out important information that though every village has received electricity, not every household has. Leaving this small detail out makes the news vague by making it seem like a bigger achievement than it is.

Besides the existence of fake news on print, television, and radio, online media has also become a tool of propaganda. WhatsApp forwards have become notorious sources of “news” that have no value or truth to it. This was seen during the pandemic when a lot of messages about how to prevent or cure Covid-19 made rounds along with untrue claims about the vaccine. There has also been an influx of edited/misdated photographs posing as credible sources of news being shared on social media.

The roots of fake news go deep and its implications deeper- influencing people, polarizing them, and providing falsified information, which ultimately results in a misinformed public. Fake news has tainted journalism as we know it since some people believe unreliable, untrue information, while the prudent find it hard to trust news outlets to uphold the legitimacy of democracy. It is left to people to cross-reference news items with other sources to verify their validity.

This article has been written by Pravallika Manju for The Paradigm

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