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Educational Delivery: Changing Left, Right & Centre
Prof Ujjwal K Chowdhury
Education technology and its delivery are going through a revolutionary change
today. In the digital age, chalk and talk is history. On one hand, with depleting
attention span of learners, new learning pedagogy is needed. And on the
other, integrating digital tools into education, from school to University, is
Brick & Mortar:
This has been the usual learning in the classroom taught by teachers who
speak the last word on the subject, coupled with learning in the library from
hard copy books, and evaluating through examinations written in examination
halls. And this one line has formed the core of brick and mortar education for
decades now. Not that it has completely gone obsolete, but much has changed
and shall change. We need teachers as role models and a human touch, for
clarifications and for inspiration. A good teacher motivates a learner to be
open to even tough subjects. Also brick and mortar gives us peers, brings in a
sense of collaboration and teamwork, makes us more social, and gives our first
circle of friends much of which remains till death.
Click & Portal:
The West first brought the concept of online learning. Entire courses came to
be presented online through the blend of text, pdfs, audio (podcasts) and
video, and finally blended where all of these are converged to make the
learning experience diverse to the sense organs and pleasing to internalize.
Indeed it has been a step forward and there emerged an entire range of edu-
tech companies catering to this. New range of e-learning tools and resources,
e-tutors, self-learning through Khan Academy videos for school education and
Coursera videos and courses for higher education have now emerged.
However, such an approach, when taken to its logical conclusion and in its
entirety, makes education mechanical, bereft of role models, inspiration, peer
group and teamwork. Many critics have noted that such an approach leads to
geeks and robotic minds.
Ancient Gurukul System in our civilization has eulogised learning by doing with
a Guru in front as an inspiring role model and learners staying together in
ashramas or Gurukuls for collective learning and a spirit of fraternal
competition. Even in the post industrial world, many with basic education went
directly into the factory system, into workshops and offices and picked up skills
on the job, learning by doing. While experiential learning makes a strong case
of hands-on ready-to- use skills being imparted only through this pedagogy, the
major limitation of this is while it answers to 'How' questions of skills, it does
not delve deep into 'Why' questions of any issue.
Experiential Brick & Portal Learning:
As we proceed into a Knowledge Economy, education is increasingly moving
towards the right futuristic model in its delivery: Experiential Brick & Portal
Learning (EBPL). Education to be diverse in scope, humane in approach,
technical in skills, and internalized in its impact must combine the best
elements of all the three noted above seamlessly and without mutual conflict.
While classrooms bring in teachers and peers. No more is the 'teacher the
ultimate interpreter of knowledge', 'but compassionate mentor who is the first
stimulus for the learner'. The learner has to follow it up with self-learning, skills
and applications on his own, particularly in the domain of higher education.
On Campus Practices:
A leading management college has started using whatsapp as a tool to
enhance attendance. It makes 2 minutes video with a touch of humour and
creativity on the major theme of the sessions and sends it to students a night
before to enhance interest of the learners.
Flip classroom methodology has been started by several management and
engineering institutes where power-point presentation on the subject of
discussion is given in advance along with online and offline reading resources.
The class begins with a quiz to assess the level of information and
understanding of the learners on the subject, then moves into clarifications
Many universities have institutionalized a mixed evaluation process of
integrating project work with online research and offline written examination.
And this process is obviously a continuous evaluation. This is in sharp contrast
to one-time year-end or twice a year written exams which determined grades
and marks of learners for all their lives.
EBPL is an imaginative way of engaged and empowered learning and multi-
pronged evaluation to test all of these: comprehension, retention, imagination
Finnish Innovation Labs in Education:
Education system of Finland is considered to be the finest in the world. In the
Finnish Innovation Labs in education, specially at higher education level, there
is no formal teaching, but a collective learning by doing where a theme is
introduced, ground rules are set, the learners in groups explore it themselves
through self-study, cases, survey or research on ground, and coming together
and sharing results at every level, discarding those that do not stand strong.
The entire edifice is founded on one core belief—learning by doing—that
inherently values trust and responsibility. Further, the same belief—effective
learning can happen when it is self-directed and self-regulated—got firmly
imprinted in my mind. Learning rather than numerical outcome ‘should
become the key component. Hence, there are no marks, only grades; and
rewards are more in the form of joy of discovery, bonding, and field-work.
Prof Ujjwal K Chowdhury
Is Currently Head, School of Media, Pearl Academy,Delhi mumbai
Media at Crossroads: When Small is Big
The small handheld screen is taking the bigger tele-screen by the horns. From
news to entertainment, short video to music video, the any-time consumption
of video online is increasing fast, more so in times of low internet costs on
handsets, in this post Jio era. Digital is being reborn in India almost every day
with 845 million cell phone users, half of them being active on internet and
social media with smart-phones, and 6 on 10 internet users being a regular
daily user majority upto 7 hours a day. Transition to the digital world ahead will
be more through Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality ad Virtual Reality,
which will add visual and conceptual diversity. But this may also create stories
and visuals which do not actually exist and pass them off as news. Therein lies
the pitfall as well.
Revenue & Distribution Challenges:
News media is at crossroads on many counts.
The basic problem facing the news media, specially the TV, today is the
disproportionate expense on distribution and carriage fees of channels (which
is approximately 45% of the consumer end revenue of the channels). Hence,
there is decidedly low investment in content and the variety of the same.
Almost all channels then resort to studio talks rather than much of field-work.
Size of the television news business is around Rs.3000 crores, which is 5% of
the gross 60,000 crores advertising revenue in India, and hence the frontiers
are still open on revenue side. Even in digital news, profit sighting and traffic
rise are rare and far in between, though has happened in some portals, like
NDTV.com. In spite of the news portals like TimesofIndia.com and
IndiaToday.in already earning profits, Indian consumer is still not ready for the
subscription and Paywall route to revenue generation in digital news.
The situation for general entertainment channels (GEC) is a tad better and the
consumption of serials and reality shows is far more on TV than on the
handset. But there is a perceptible change herein too. Snacking of small parts
of reality shows on the digital medium is rampant now and often such short
videos go viral. Also, appointment viewing of television programs is on decline
as urban consumers specially need anytime viewing due to a hectic short-on-
time lifestyle. Digital with its anytime viewing option is hence a major way
forward, being aided with large and cheap datapacks on phones and home
TV Integration with the Digital Medium:
NDTV.com has emerged to be the 20th largest news portal of the world and by
far the largest of any TV news organization in India, with its Web First slogan
and series of initiatives. Since online audience is not equal to broadcast
audience, it is creating specific skills within its integrated newsroom. India
Today takes it to Mobile First perspective where the content (pics, language
and video) are even tailored to mobile medium sensitivity. Alongside,
television and its digital avatars are both caught up in the debate between
speed news (face focus) and enterprise content (full story with various
perspectives). Original curated personalized content is must in the digital
medium, and hence the adaptation of journalists to digital content generation
techniques becomes crucial. Un-cynical and tech-savvy younger work-force is
often more suited for this.
Bias versus Neutrality:
It is a good news that journalism in myriad forms is being consumed more and
democracy is being served better with reach of news becoming stronger and
wider, though in a clutter of news-platforms, credibility is going to be the
discerning factor. The worrying factor at times is that by-lines are increasingly
known less for the news they speak but for stands they take. There is the rise
of branded anchors, living in their bubbles and echo-chambers, and TV often
presents less news, and much more views. Sometimes the extreme stands of
anchors are doing almost an irreparable damage to journalism, as seen in
Kasganj case recently.
Alternatively, social media, consumed much on smartphones, has created
some pressures on TV to stand firm. Portals like altnews and boomchecker
have created pressures on TV journalists to get their stories right. News
anchors can have their biases in views, but post-truths or fake news cannot be
presented as facts. The artificially created conflicts through studio guests and
#journalism are signs of decay in healthy news presentation, though these
serve the twin purposes of reducing costs and strengthening biases and
Media mediates social change, and media self-corrects with time. People do go
back to credible news. After the coming in Donald Trump to power in USA,
New York Times and CNN have become more popular. Indian news media
should be thinking about what they are doing to themselves for TRPs,
viewership and being in the good books of powers that be. Often even TRPs do
not reflect the reality on ground. Hence, social media again acts as a deterrent
to the aberrations of the TV. A bigger challenge, while audiences are coming to
TV for re-iteration or reaffirmation of their already existing world view, they
take to digital media for breaking news. This will only grow further, but
revenue is still abysmally low in the digital which is the cause of real worry.
With higher revenues on the digital medium, there will be more corrections in
the overall contours of news-dissemination in India.
NewsRoom 2020: Crystal-gazing:
The new definition of DTH is Direct to Handset. So mobile journalism (MOJO)
and skills of MOJO journalists are the order of tomorrow. The future is of
further integrated newsroom along with staff doubling up on TV and digital
fronts, selfie-stick reporters shooting themselves and publishing
simultaneously will be the new normal. In brief, multi-skilled convergent
techno-savvy mobile journalists with a great network and way with languages
shall be the most sought after animal in the world of news of tomorrow.
Also, technology penetration will emerge as the game-changer ahead.
Broadband penetration across 600 districts and gradually 6.3 lacs villages will
make the medium influencing the message. Social media will fill in where the
mainstream media fail and with broadband going to every corner this will be
further accelerated. Also, Specialized Content, as in business or ecology or
defence, for specific niche audiences will also find market and revenue talking
to their right audiences.
Indeed, journalists can take you to the spot of an event through VR and add
layers to it through AR. Facts and fiction distinction may to an extent get
obliterated. This is more so as video capable devices are on the rise, and are
expected to grow more than twice between 2016 and 2020. Even today, daily
online video watchers are 33% of the total internet users in India. And among
these viewers, women outnumber men and Hindi outnumbers all other
languages taken together.
Come 2020: Content still remains the king, though contexts and platforms shall
Prof Ujjwal K Chowdhury
Is Currently Head, School of Media, Pearl Academy,Delhi mumbai
COMBATTING POST TRUTH, FAKE NEWS, FALSE NEWS AND CENSORSHIP
Bhopal:MMNN: 3 April 2018
[Taking recourse to numerous global studies, Prof. Ujjwal K Chowdhury throws light into
the oft-repeated concepts of post-truth, fake news, false news and resultant press
censorship in the era of hashtag journalism and suggests ways to combat the menace.]
As the world debates on fake news and its multiple dimensions, authoritarian regimes across
the world are making it an excuse to censor free speech and ensure conformity. While serious
news organizations are mulling possible measures to contain the journalistic menace, there is
a worrisome global trend that is surfacing – labelling anti-establishment news as fake news
and crushing the very essence of democracy.
The governments across countries in Southeast South Asia in general and the Indian
government, under the leadership of Narendra Modi, in particular have been consistently
striking at the very concept of press freedom in the name of curbing fake news.
Tackling Fake News: The South East Asian Way
In a recent turn of events on April 3, the Indian PM Narendra Modi overruled an executive
order issued a day earlier that sought to penalize journalists for publishing fake news. The
said order sought to amend the Guidelines for Accreditation of Journalists. According to the
now-defunct guidelines, the accreditation of a journalist would have stood cancelled if he/ she
would have been found to create and propagate fake news by regulating agencies. The
journalists were up in arms against the order and called it a direct attack on the freedom of
expression thereby forcing the government to step back.
However, there is a distinct possibility of the government re-introducing the measure in some
form or the other. It is pertinent to note that the Indian Information & Broadcasting Minister,
Smriti Irani, recently speaking at the Rising India Conclave of Network 18, had categorically
noted that the Indian government is debating on the contours of a law to prevent fake news
The most worrying factor for media rights advocates is that several countries are promoting
new legislations or expanding existing regulations to make publishing fake news an offence.
The fear is that, rather than focusing on false stories published on social media, authoritarian
leaders will use the new laws to target legitimate news outlets that are critical of them.
The term fake news has entered the lexicon of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations
(ASEAN), whose leaders commended the work done by their governments in countering its
Recently, the Philippines’ corporate regulator revoked the operating licence of Rappler, a
news site whose scrutiny of President Rodrigo Duterte’s deadly war on drugs has been a
thorn in his side. John Nery, the associate editor and a columnist at the Philippine Daily
Inquirer, which has also come under attack from the government, said ‘fake news’ is now
glibly used by people who don’t like what they hear.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen regularly accuses critical media outlets of spreading
‘fake news’. Huy Vannak, the undersecretary of state at the Cambodia’s Interior Ministry,
told Reuters, “Everyone, including ordinary citizens, has to fight against fake news because
fake news is like poison or a gun and it can kill our beautiful society.”
In Malaysia, Prime Minister Najib Razak has accused opponents of using the media to spread
fake news on a scandal over state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB). 1MDB is
being investigated in at least six countries for money-laundering.
The government of Singapore, where curbs on free speech have often been criticised by
human rights advocates, is planning legislation to tackle fake online information.
Thailand already has a cyber-security law under which the spread of false information carries
a jail sentence of up to seven years.
Myanmar has assailed foreign news organisations for spreading ‘fake news’ about a military
crackdown in its Rakhine state that triggered the exodus of more than 650,000 Rohingya
Muslims to Bangladesh. It has detained at least 29 journalists since Nobel peace laureate
Aung San Suu Kyi came to power in 2016.
Philip Bowring, a former editor of the news magazine Far Eastern Economic Review, which
closed in 2009, said ‘fake news’ is ‘a convenient phrase’ for governments that would in any
case find ways to crimp press freedom.
In the given context, it is important to understand certain associated terms so that things can
be put in perspective.
Post-truth as a Concept
Post-truth represents a situation when facts take the backseat and emotional appeals and
personal beliefs start shaping public opinion. Let us take a couple of contextual examples to
understand the term. “In this era of post-truth politics, it’s easy to cherry-pick data and come
to whatever conclusion you desire” and “Some commentators have observed that we are
living in a post-truth age” are two sentences that delineate the meaning of post-truth.
In the given context, it is important to define post-truth politics (also called post-factual
politics and post-reality politics) as a political culture in which debate is framed largely by
emotional appeals, and by the repeated assertion of talking points ignoring factual
rebuttals. Post-truth differs from the traditional contesting and falsifying of truth by
relegating truth to be a concern of secondary importance. A defining trait of post-truth
politics is that campaigners continue to repeat their talking points, even if the same are found
to be untrue.
Political commentators have identified post-truth politics as ascendant in American,
Australian, Bavarian, British, Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Russian, Spanish and Turkish
politics, as with other areas of debate, driven by a combination of the 24-hour news
cycle, false balance in news reporting, and the increasing ubiquity of social media. In 2016,
‘post-truth’ was chosen as the Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year subject to the Brexit
referendum and the U.S. presidential election.
In 2015, media and politics scholar Jayson Harsin coined the term ‘Regime of Post-Truth’
covering many aspects of post-truth politics. He argues that a convergent set of developments
have created the conditions of post-truth society: the political communication informed by
cognitive science, which aims at managing perceptions and beliefs of segmented populations
through techniques like micro-targeting which includes rumours and falsehoods; the
fragmentation of modern and more centralized media; the attention economy marked by
information overload, user-generated content and fewer trusted authorities to distinguish
between truth and lies, accurate and inaccurate; the algorithms which govern what appears in
social media and search engine rankings, based on what users want and not on what is
factual; and news media which have been marred by plagiarism, hoaxes, propaganda and
changing news values.
Post-truth and Social Media
Social media adds a dimension, as user networks can become echo chambers where one
political viewpoint dominates and scrutiny of claims fails, allowing a parallel media
ecosystem of websites, publishers and news channels to develop, which can repeat post-truth
claims. In this environment, post-truth campaigns can ignore fact checks or dismiss them.
The digital culture allows anybody with a computer and access to the internet to post their
opinions online which may become legitimized through echo-chambers. Content may be
judged based on how many views a post gets, creating an atmosphere based on click bait that
appeals to emotion. Content which gets more views is continually filtered around different
internet circles, regardless of its legitimacy. The internet allows people to choose where they
get their information, allowing them to reinforce their own opinions.
Trumpian and Modi-fied Post-truth Era
Consider how far Donald Trump is estranged from fact. He inhabits a fantastical realm where
Barack Obama’s birth certificate was faked and he founded the Islamic State, the Clintons are
killers and the father of a rival was with Lee Harvey Oswald before he shot John F. Kennedy.
Trump is the leading exponent of “post-truth” politics – a reliance on assertions that ‘feel
true’ but have no basis in fact.
And he is not alone! Members of Poland’s government assert that a previous president, who
died in a plane crash, was assassinated by Russia. Turkish politicians claim that the
perpetrators of the recent bungled coup were under the CIA.
In the Modi-Shah- Adityanath era of post-truth politics in India, cow smugglers are lynched,
every Hindu-Muslim marriage is love jihad, becoming a Hindu is Ghar Wapsi, anyone
questioning the efficacy of an army act is considered an anti-national, slogans of freedom
from poverty are considered to be secession calls and the likes.
Feelings and not facts matter in this sort of campaigning where the us-versus- them mindset
Post-truth politics has many parents. Some are noble. The questioning of institutions and
received wisdom is a democratic virtue. A sceptical analysis of leaders is the first step to
reform. Communism perished because people were prepared to challenge the official
But corrosive forces are also at play, one being anger. Many voters feel let down and left
behind. They are scornful of assertions that the euro would improve their lives or Saddam
Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Popular trust in expert opinion and established
institutions has tumbled across the Western democracies.
Post-truth has also been abetted by the evolution of the media. The fragmentation of news
sources has created an atomised world in which lies, rumour and gossip rule. Presented with
evidence that contradicts a popular belief, people have a tendency to ditch the facts first.
Well-intentioned journalistic practices bear blame too. The pursuit of ‘fairness’ in reporting
often creates phoney balance at the expense of truth.
It is tempting to think that supporters might realize their mistake when policies, sold on
dodgy prospectuses, start to fail. The worst part of post-truth politics, though, is that this self-
correction cannot be trusted. When lies make the political system dysfunctional, its poor
results can feed the alienation that harbour post-truth in the first place.
Pro-truth Lobby Needs to Stand and be Counted
To counter this, mainstream politicians need to find a language of rebuttal. Humility and the
acknowledgment of past hubris would help. The truth has powerful forces on its side. Any
politician who makes contradictory promises to different audiences will soon be exposed on
Facebook or YouTube.
Democracies have institutions to help, too. An independent legal system has mechanisms to
Fake and False News
There is a conceptual error here. When we cite fake news, it is presumed that there is an
original piece of news which is being faked. However, it is largely about false news, news
that does not exist or perhaps exist in a totally different form.
Soroush Vosoughi, Deb Roy and Sinan Aral in their seminal study on false and true news,
investigated the differential diffusion of all of the verified true and false news stories
distributed on Twitter from 2006 to 2017. The data comprise ~126,000 stories tweeted by ~3
million people more than 4.5 million times. They classified news as true or false using
information from six independent fact-checking organizations that exhibited 95 to 98 percent
agreement on the classifications.
All rumour cascades were investigated through six independent fact-checking organizations
(snopes.com, politifact.com, factcheck.org, truthorfiction.com, hoax-slayer.com, and
urbanlegends.about.com) by parsing the title, body, and verdict (true, false, or mixed) of each
rumour investigation reported on their websites and automatically collecting the cascades
corresponding to those rumours on Twitter.
Falsehood was found to diffuse significantly farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the
truth in all categories of information, and the effects were more pronounced for false political
news than for false news about terrorism, natural disasters, science, urban legends or financial
information. They found that false news was more novel. Whereas false stories inspired fear,
disgust, and surprise in replies, true stories inspired anticipation, sadness, joy and trust.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, robots accelerated the spread of true and false news at the
same rate, implying that false news spreads more than the truth because humans, not robots,
are more likely to spread it.
Both true and false information spread rapidly through online media. Defining what is true
and false has become a common political strategy, replacing debates based on a mutually
agreed on set of facts. The economies are not immune to the spread of falsity either. False
rumours have affected stock prices.
Indeed, our responses to everything from natural disasters to terrorist attacks have been
disrupted by the spread of false news online. New social technologies, which facilitate rapid
information sharing, can enable the spread of misinformation. Technology has helped
spreading single rumours like the discovery of the Higgs boson or the 2010-Haitian
Earthquake and multiple rumours from a single disaster event like the 2013-Boston Marathon
In our current political climate, a fluid terminology has arisen around ‘fake news’, foreign
interventions in politics through social media and our understanding of what constitutes
news, fake news, false news, rumours, rumour cascades and other related terms. Although at
one time, it may have been appropriate to think of fake news as referring to the veracity of a
news story, we now believe that this phrase has been irredeemably polarized.
As politicians have developed a political strategy of labelling news sources that do not
support their positions as unreliable and sources that support their positions as reliable, the
term has lost all connection to the actual veracity of the information presented.
Their study shows that falsehood also reached far more people than the truth. Whereas the
truth rarely diffused to more than 1,000 people, the top one percent of false-news cascades
routinely diffused to between 1,000 and 100,000 people. The spread of falsehood was aided
by its virality, meaning that falsehood did not simply spread through broadcast dynamics but
rather through peer-to peer diffusion. It took the truth about six times as long as falsehood to
reach 1,500 people.
Novelty attracts human attention, contributes to productive decision-making and encourages
information sharing. Although we cannot claim that novelty causes retweets or that novelty is
the only reason why false news is retweeted more often, we do find that false news is more
novel and that novel information is more likely to be retweeted.
False news can drive the misallocation of resources during terror attacks and natural disasters,
the misalignment of business investments and misinformed elections. Unfortunately,
although the amount of false news online is clearly increasing, the scientific understanding of
how and why false news spreads is currently based on ad hoc rather than large-scale
Trolling: What and When Successful?
Trolling is the art of deliberately, cleverly, and secretly pissing people off, usually via the
internet. Trolling does not mean just making rude remarks – shouting swear words at
someone doesn’t count as trolling and is considered flaming. Spamming isn’t trolling either.
The most essential part of trolling is convincing your victim that either a) you truly believe in
what you are saying no matter how outrageous or b) give your victim malicious instructions
under the guise of help. Signs that your trolling is successful – your victim screaming in all-
caps at you or making personal attacks or making a crude remark, before quickly logging off.
Signs that your trolling is unsuccessful – your victim identifying you as a troll or your efforts
being ignored or being counter-trolled.
Counter-trolling (or reverse trolling) is an effective method of redeeming yourself after being
trolled. It involves taking the topic at hand you were being trolled with, and use it against the
Grim Conclusions of the Largest Study of Fake News
“Falsehood flies, and truth comes limping after it,” Jonathan Swift once wrote. It was
hyperbole three centuries ago. But perhaps no more! The massive new study published
recently in Science analyzes every major contested news story in English across the span of
Twitter’s existence—some 126,000 stories, tweeted by 3 million users, over more than 10
years. The study finds that fake news and rumours reach more people, penetrate deeper into
the social network, and spread much faster than accurate stories.
The study has already prompted alarm from social scientists. They call for a new drive of
interdisciplinary research to reduce the spread of fake news.
The new study suggests that it will not be easy. While false stories outperform the truth on
every subject — business, terrorism and war, science and technology and entertainment —
fake news about politics regularly does best.
The blame for this problem cannot be laid with our robotic brethren. From 2006 to 2016,
Twitter bots amplified true stories as much as they amplified false ones. Fake news prospers,
the authors write, “Because humans, not robots, are more likely to spread it.”
Why does falsehood do so well? An MIT team settled on two hypotheses.
First, fake news seems to be more ‘novel’ than real news. Second, fake news evokes much
more emotion than the average tweet.
Yet, these do not encompass the most depressing finding of the study. The MIT team found
that the users who share accurate information have more followers, and send more tweets,
than fake-news sharers. These fact-guided users have also been on Twitter for longer, and
they are more likely to be verified. In short, the most trustworthy users can boast every
obvious structural advantage that Twitter, either as a company or a community, can bestow
on its best users.
In short, social media seems to systematically amplify falsehood at the expense of the truth,
and no one—neither experts nor politicians nor tech companies—knows how to reverse that
In the final three months of the US presidential campaign, the top-performing fake election
news stories on Facebook generated more engagement than the top stories from major news
outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, NBC News, and
others, a BuzzFeed News analysis has found.
Tackling False News and Post-truth Journalism
Both technology companies and governments have started to make efforts to tackle the
challenge of ‘post-truth politics’. In an article for the journal Global Policy, Prof. Nayef Al-
Rodhan suggested four particular responses:
1. Improve the technological tools for fact checking.
2. Greater involvement and visibility for scientists and the scientific community.
3. Stronger government action. The most important challenge here is to ensure that such
state-led efforts are not used as a tool for censorship.
4. Securitizing fake news.
Psychological solutions include the so-called fake news ‘vaccine’.
Combating False News in India
India, one of the biggest internet markets in the world, has its share of troubles with fake
news, but Indian society has also given birth to important initiatives to tackle the issue. For
instance, a news portal called The Quint has started a section called Webquf that debunks fake
news. Some of the leading grassroots citizens driven anti false-news initiatives as of today
are: (1) Boom FactCheck (BFC), established by Govindraj Ethiraj; (2) Social Media Hoax
Slayer (SMHS), started and run by Pankaj Jain; (3) Pratik Sinha’s Alt News and
(4) check4spam.com initiated by Shammas Oliyath and Bal Krishn Birla.
As news of two Indian soldiers allegedly beheaded by Pakistan broke, several
thousand WhatsApp groups came alive. A video purportedly showing the beheading, one by
a chainsaw and another knifed in the throat while singing Vande Mataram, went viral. A
week later, it turned out that the video was shot in 2011 and the men were Spanish drug
dealers. It was exposed by Mumbai-based businessman Pankaj Jain who runs the SM Hoax
Pratik Sinha, a 35-year- old Ahmedabad-based software techie, co-founded a website and
Twitter handle — altnews.in and @altnews_in — to counter “deliberate underground
political propaganda”. “It is extremely dangerous and no political party is working to stop it,”
Bangalore-based Check4spam.com, an organisation that works on exposing hoaxes, says it is
having trouble keeping up with flow of requests to verify false news. The site gets 250,000
visitors in a month on an average.
On the other hand, Ram Puri, a software engineer, believes that WhatsApp traffic is vital for
generating public opinion. He is a member of 10 WhatsApp groups and receives almost 500
messages an hour.
“I get to know if there is an incident in the country before it hits the headlines on a TV
channel,” he says. A self-confessed ‘nationalist’, he says he keenly watches and forwards
videos on the Army’s offensive in Jammu and Kashmir and other parts of the country.
In 2015, for instance, the police said WhatsApp messages had led to a man being lynched in
Ahmedabad, Gujarat, and four beatings in nearby Gandhinagar. Mohammad Akhlaq was
murdered by a mob in his village house in Uttar Pradesh the same year after villagers said
they had seen pictures on WhatsApp proving he had slaughtered a cow. Forensic reports later
proved that the meat was not that of a cow.
Experts say fake or false news falls in two categories — so-called news articles and videos
published by various websites, Twitter handles, Facebook pages and YouTube channels; and
the other, WhatsApp forwards that go viral.
“These news articles or videos are run by either individuals or entities that have a certain
ideological bias. Most of these websites that we have come across are run by non-journalists
whose goal is to twist public opinion,” says Jency Jacob, the managing editor of Boom, an
initiative to counter false news. Boom’s sister organisation, factchecker.in, also counters
‘news’ or public statements that may be fake.
But how do these hoax-slayers dig out the lies? While software tools are used to trace videos
on YouTube, key words are reverse googled to find the original context. Sinha explains,
“Sometimes, I break a video into frames and then search for the original. It can take an hour
or a whole day,” says techie Sinha.
Data scientist Rishabh Srivastava says fake news in India is of deeper concern since it is
primarily spread through WhatsApp. Data analytics can show us the ethnicity and gender
profile of those forwarding a certain piece of news that help us determine whether it is false
or not but the nature of WhatsApp encryption makes it difficult to counter it, he adds.
So, would a fake news legislation help clamp down on these elements? Lawyer Apar Gupta
says that India has the most prescriptive speech laws for a democratic country and a law on
fake news might end up encouraging censorship. “We also need to strengthen existing
institutions like the Press Council of India,” he adds.
One of the most common techniques of the fake news industry is to take images out of
context. Fake news with stolen and doctored images is found worldwide and could even lead
to real social strife. In India, some of the most out-of- the-blue cases of images taken out of
their original context include a story claiming that an old Hindu temple carried images of
modern technology – such as an astronaut — or that researchers unearthed the 80-foot- long
skeleton of Ghatotkacha, a giant described in the Mahabharata epic.
The fake news slayers have to be particularly good at using reverse image search engines,
such as TinEye. A reverse image search enables the searcher to find when the image had been
used before – if it had – and, obviously, finding earlier sources makes it possible to compare
the images and find the adulterations.
Pratik Sinha of Alt News reveals that he does the same with videos by breaking them into
frames and then putting these stills in the reverse image search. As revealed on SMHS, the
image of the astronaut on the ‘temple’ turned out to originate from the New Cathedral in
Salamanca. The astronaut and other modern touches were added to that church during the
1992 restoration. The skeleton of a ‘giant’ was in reality a sculpture by an Italian artist.
Reverse image searching also helps to counter the doctors of doctored images. Photographs
are not just being stolen – they are also being morphed or altered. A clever combination of
two historical photographs created the image of the members of Rashtriya Swayamsevak
Sangh, a Hindu nationalist organization, saluting before the British queen.
The hoax slayers also refer to verified accounts on social media such as Twitter or Facebook.
This method may have its limitations: many times, well-known people such as politicians or
journalists share fake news and doctored images accidentally. Yet, looking at the social
media user profiles, while not necessarily helpful in judging the credibility of the news, helps
in uncovering the agenda behind the news.
Going beyond the web by contacting official institutions to verify a story also helped in a
number of cases. For example, Ethiraj and Jacob of Boom FactCheck recommend contacting
local police when the news clearly relates to a smaller locality. Boom FactCheck did exactly
that in assessing the validity of a story about a violent abduction in the state of Rajasthan. The
importance of verifying a story with the authorities was recently confirmed when a school
bus was attacked by goons in the city of Gurugram. While it was widely believed that the
attackers came from a fringe, right wing Hindu group called the Shri Rajput Karni Sena,
many netizens shared the news that the men that pelting stones at the school bus were
Muslims. The Gurugram police, however, denied that any followers of Islam were arrested in
connection to the event.
Debunking Fake News
Visual cues, such as photos and graphics, portraying Modi as the saviour of the nation,
alongside memes mocking the other parties’ candidates were shared on social media by a
team of dedicated Modi supporters.
In another instance, a photo meant to show a younger, humble Modi sweeping the floors went
viral, and was later debunked as a doctored image of another man.
As dystopian as it may seem, the fake news problem in India is very real. In all, seven people
lost their lives in two separate incidents in Jharkhand, in a fury that was based on falsified
social media information.
A couple of months after the Jharkhand incident, amidst a communal flare-up in the state of
West Bengal, a BJP leader, Vijeta Malik, shared a screenshot from a local feature film
showing a woman being molested by Muslims.
While websites like AltNews rake up to a million views a month, the lack of human resources
to counter people like Vijeta adds another layer of challenge. They have to prioritise
investigations based on the urgency afforded to the matter.
“If a politician is at the forefront of spreading fake news, we give that priority,” he explains.
However, if a video is involved, that takes precedence over all else. “Videos are a high
priority, because they are always so dangerous,” he illustrates with the example of a series of
fake videos that went viral after India lost a cricket match against Pakistan in June.
“Multiple videos were circulated on WhatsApp allegedly showing Indian Muslims
celebrating the victory of Pakistan. All except one of those videos was genuine; it was from
Indian-administered Kashmir,” he recalls.
How Is Fake News Circulated?
Surprisingly, fake news production and circulation seem rather meticulous and well-
organised. Websites such as Postcard News, an Indian version of Breitbart, have cropped up
and made a successful business model out of fake news. The website gets further momentum
when shared by prominent BJP leaders and right-wing influencers. Additionally, a blitzkrieg
strategy is adopted on social media, wherein BJP followers post tweets and messages taken
from a common template created in advance, with the idea of pushing a suitable ‘trend’ to
popularity. Recently the founder-editor of Postcard News was arrested in Karnataka on
ground of spreading enmity between communities.
One such template acquired by Al Jazeera, created on a Google document, shows the
centralised nature of a social media campaign.
Pankaj Jain feels the fake news machinery is not designed to serve the interests of just one
political entity or ideology.
“Politics is dirty, and now everyone is employing fake news as a strategy for power play,” he
said citing false claims by the opposition about a railway project signed by the ruling party.
Elaborating on the role of mobile-based messenger applications, he remains cautiously fearful
of the role of WhatsApp. “While WhatsApp isn’t the only platform, in India, it does play an
important role in circulation of fake news,” he explains.
“It allows you to forward a message and then completely delete it from your own system,
thereby shedding responsibility. Also, often those messages ‘forwarded as received’ are also
easily edited to suit one’s agenda,” he adds.
The Business of Fake News
“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it."
The quote that is often, and ironically, wrongly attributed to Joseph Goebbels – the
propaganda minister during Nazi Germany – perhaps best sums up what’s happening in India.
More interestingly, those participating in this blitzkrieg action are not just BJP’s online foot
soldiers, but also members of the parliament as well as several ministers in Modi’s cabinet.
Indian ministers have often been called out for sharing images and information on social
media that is in fact untrue.
Jain puts the responsibility of this epidemic on the information consumers. “The only driving
force in fake news in the existing, strongly-held bias among people,” he insists.
What this means is that, a lot of the time, social and mainstream media feed off one another
to get more eyeballs. However, the larger issue is still one of media literacy and the fight
against fake news still needs to be led by mainstream legacy media. People segment
organisations into those they trust and those that they believe are there to entertain them.
There is a higher onus on those that they trust to do more. This could be as simple as breaking
down an article and educating readers how they work. It can be as basic as distinguishing an
opinion piece from a news piece and breaking down articles and identifying things like
sources, facts and analyses.
Finally, it is the protracted efforts of the Civil Society, assisted by a movement for Media
Literacy through academia and alternative media that can to an extent combat the menace of
false, fake, post-truth news and trolling.
BOX-ITEM: Some Top False Stories in Contemporary India
1. UNESCO Declares PM Modi Best Prime Minister: UNESCO has been one of the
primary alleged sources of fake news in India. In June 2016, the given news broke
2. UNESCO Declares ‘Jana Gana Mana’ Best National Anthem: This is another
favourite Indian rumour involving the UNESCO. It broke out during the 2016-
3. UNESCO Declares New Rs. 2,000 Note Best Currency in the World: This is
another fake UNESCO certificate for India after demonetization.
4. New Notes Have a GPS Chip to Detect Black Money: This is a ridiculous
demonetization rumour that proliferated after PM Modi announced demonetization.
5. New Notes Have Radioactive Ink: This is another result of demonetization.
6. WhatsApp Profile Pictures Can be Used by ISIS for Terror Activities: A
WhatsApp forward; supposedly sent by the Delhi police commissioner, requested
‘mothers’ and ‘sisters’ to delete their WhatsApp profile pictures for security purposes.
7. RBI Declares the Rs. 10 Coin Invalid: Months before demonetization was
announced, the message that the RBI had declared the Rs 10 coin invalid spread
8. Salt Shortage in India: WhatsApp messages of a salt shortage in November 2016
triggered panic buying at markets past midnight.
BOX-ITEM: Some Tools Bust Myths
Google reverse image search is favoured by all of the Indian myth-busters. It allows
you to upload an image online and then search for where it may have appeared.
TinEye also allows readers to check if images have been manipulated.
The free video to jpg converter transforms video into images that can then be searched
InVid has developed a browser application that allows people to add video links into
it. It then provides detailed analysis about the video in question.
The author is currently the School Head, School of Media, Pearl Academy, which is a
part of Laureate International Group. He has been earlier the Dean of Symbiosis and
Amity Universities, and of Whistling Woods International.