2017: The Year of Fake News

Views from Srinagar

Mirza Ravhan

AS 2017 is drawing to a close, let’s have a flashback! While some cherish these moments of recall, others hate every moment as it re-opens the wounds. 2017 was an eventful year with lot many happenings in all spheres, at all levels, be it local, national or international. In Kashmir it may be remembered as ‘the year of the braid chopping’, but something even bigger happened. They call it `Fake News. 2017 saw the fake news becoming a global phenomenon and it being acknowledged at the highest levels though for varied reasons. The US President, Donald Trump created ripples in the media circles by accusing a media giant, CNN, of spreading fake news against him. Thus the term spread everywhere.
A new term for the rest of the world, fake news is something we are all familiar with because over the years we have all encountered tons of them. “Ba’ad main pata chala..” (we realised later) is the common refrain here whenever someone is being taken for a ride. Here in Kashmir be it authentic or inauthentic, real or bogus everything spreads like wildfire and without even thinking or questioning we tend to believe in whatever we read or hear and pass the same forwards without realising the dangers it brings to the society and the impact it has on people and families. Fake news has devastated families, torn them apart, and brought down business houses solely because someone had a hidden agenda.
Fake news as the term itself indicates all about it but still we as consumers aren’t able to distinguish the authentic from the bogus. The spread and impact of fake news in 2017 is far greater than ever. Research has shown that some of us don’t even read beyond headlines before we start to share stories. The impact of fake news here in Kashmir is very wide and affective, pictures on social media about anything and everything ignites hue and cry and pontification and condemnation as the matter may be perceived to be.
Before we blame the sources of fake news, we should all introspect as we all have a role to play online and offline. Some do play their role in a judicious and cautious manner while others do it recklessly without thinking about the consequences of their actions.
Looking at the dictionary meaning of fake news we find “yellow journalism” as its precursor. One wonders what happens to ethics, morals and professionalism in such situations? Why should there be such a thing in the first place? Yellow journalism is defined as the type of journalism that presents little or no legitimate well-substantiated news and instead uses eye catching headlines to attract more eye balls. Sensationalising news for marketing and advertisement gains has cost us dear. Another variant, Click bait journalism; where the main goal is to get the user to click the link, by stylizing and manufacturing headlines in order to generate revenues. Certain news portals use these techniques and hooks freely to hoodwink the gullible readers. To cap it all now emerges the fake news, the false and sensational, deliberate misinformation disseminated in the garb of news reporting.
That is where our role as consumers of information comes in because thanks to the internet we are consumers but we are also producers and publishers. We can act responsibly by making the right choices regarding what we want to see and believe and what we think is morally and ethically correct. We have to educate ourselves with what is happening elsewhere, not only our home state but the whole global scenario. We have to be mindful citizens as well as careful netizens.
It is about time that we ask tougher questions before going ahead with spreading and sharing the content we discover online because we have a responsibility at our shoulders. Questions like: Why is this person telling me this story? What do they have to gain by sharing this information? Do they have hidden agenda? These questions demand our attention and they have to be answered. We should not let ourselves become the tools of manipulation for people with hidden agendas.
Meanwhile, fake news has been named as the word of the year 2017 by Collins dictionary due to its widespread use around the world. Engineers at Google and Facebook are trying their best to filter out fake news from the authentic ones and we can help them by doing our part. Of course, the genuine and responsible news organisations have a bigger role to play.
— Courtesy GK
[Mirza Ravhan is a student of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Kashmir. He writes on issues related to education, culture, science and society.]

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