Many “social entrepreneurs” are creating news web portals to expose the trend of fake news with damaging security implications.
It didn’t take long after the demonetisation announcement in November last year for almost everyone to hear about the new Rs 2,000 note having a “built-in GPS-enabled nano-chip”. “News” of this “high-tech feature” spread rapidly, though there was no notification about it from the Reserve Bank of India.
In November last year, too, “news” about shortage of salt in North India spread rapidly, unleashing panic and claiming a woman’s life in Bakarganj Bazaar, Kanpur.
This wasn’t the only time when fake news claimed a life. In 2013, messages sent on WhatsApp helped incite riots in Muzaffarnagar. A two-year-old video of a lynching in Pakistan was mischievously “promoted” as an attack on two Hindu boys by Muslims in Kawal village of Muzaffarnagar. The video, in turn, provoked calls for revenge that claimed lives.
Angry over such fake news going viral, in August 2015, Pankaj Jain, a 39-year-old engineer from Mumbai, started smhoaxslayer.com, a website which aims to expose fake news.
Jain, whose web portal debunks about five to 10 fake news daily, said: “People are in the grip of fake news; they have almost lost their rationality and reasoning capacity and are following any news as sacred content, without even checking the authenticity of that news.”
“I am not an extremist, and not being biased towards any religion, caste or political parties. My job is just to debunk fake news, videos or messages spreading on the web or social media portals. If readers use a little logic, have a doubting mind and invest some effort to verify facts before reading any news, they can identify easily whether the news content is fake or true,” Jain told The Sunday Guardian.
According to Jain, while busting fake news, he is doing social work, but his venture has a viable revenue model to merit his interest.
“I keep my eyes open at all times for catching false news around me—for instance photoshopped, morphed, and edited images. I investigate a background, track down the origin of such content and after finding the final content as fake, I upload an explanatory article on my website,” Jain added.
Jain is not alone in the “crusade” against fake news. Early this year, Pratik Sinha, a 35-year-old software engineer based in Ahmedabad, co-founded a website, altnews.in, to counter the “deliberate hidden political propaganda” flourishing in the country.
“Explosion of fake news is extremely dangerous and political parties, instead of trying to stop the menace of fake news, are busy propagating the same,” Pratik Sinha, co-founder of altnews.in, told The Sunday Guardian.
However, Sinha’s work on debunking fake news is focused on unearthing political propaganda and falsehood spread by the mainstream media as well as social media.
A Bangalore-based organisation Check4spam.com, which works as a hoax buster, says it receives over 200 messages daily from across the country seeking to check facts. “It’s our passion for social work which forces our small tech team to fight against the proliferation of fake news,” Shammas Oliyath, co-founder of Check4spam.com, told The Sunday Guardian.
Meanwhile, Facebook, WhatsApp’s parent company, has been facing flak for not curbing the circulation of fake news.
On its part, Facebook has announced it will try to flag questionable news stories with the help of users and external fact checkers.