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Digital Media Literacy Needed To Combat Fake News

As digital becomes mainstay in India, Minister of Information & Broadcasting, Environment, Forest and Climate Change and Heavy Industries & Public Enterprises, Government of India, Prakash Javadekar, cautions against the ills of fake news and way to guard against it

Photo Credit : Ritesh Sharma

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For some time now, India has been seen as a positive and fast growing digital economy. Developments in the last four years, especially as data became affordable, pushed the trend forward and the pandemic played a vital role in accelerating digital adoption across businesses and consumers in India.

India is already considered the second largest digital user-base, and the Government of India has undertaken several initiatives to spearhead digital transformation of the nation. 

While this comes with a host of opportunities to shape a new India, and to make India future ready in every sense, this has also presented several concerns, one among these being fake news. The global ill in the form of fake news did not spare India, and as per Minister of Information & Broadcasting, Environment, Forest and Climate Change and Heavy Industries & Public Enterprises, Government of India, Prakash Javadekar, steps must be taken immediately, to curtail the fallout of this phenomenon.

Javadekar’s warning is rooted in strong causes. Unlike a few months ago, when the Indian digital user could have been arguably bucketed in an upward mobile male profile, COVID-19 times has ensured that people across age groups and genders are now active consumers of digital media and content. Chances are, beating industry estimates of about 40-45%, digital advertising may even grow to the tune of 60-70% in the year ahead. This is when no other media can claim growth of any kind in this year.

The Worst Kind

Fake news, different from false news, is perhaps the worst of the misleading and fabricated kind of ‘news’ content. Javadekar categorises it as even more “dangerous than paid news”. 

“One such news article can cause widespread harm, which cannot be rectified irrespective the steps one can will take to -- it is a new, potent weapon which can really be misused and asks for preemptive, corrective measures,” says Javadekar.

He reminds that while newspapers have Press Council of India, TV has a measure of well formulated self-regulation mechanism to solve grievances, advertising too has a body like the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), there has been no mechanism for digital. 

“No one had even imagined that digital would have become the ultimate form of news content consumption, and safety measures have not been provided. These are urgently and immediately needed. Digital media too should have norms and a regulatory body,” he states.

Check, Verify

Government bodies such as the Press Information Bureau (PIB) have been activated to combat the advent of fake news. PIB has set up fact checking teams for instance. At the same time, there is a call to encourage “digital media literacy” among people.

Javadekar points to these and informs of some of the recommendations that the government has in play. The first among these is to “consider the news source”. “The reader should investigate the site and its mission. They should also check the credibility of the author,” he says.

Steps ranging from checking news date to checking for biases, including inherent-bias, and reading beyond headlines are recommended in these suggestions. 

“There is click-baiting and sensationalism seen today when the main story does not have anything to support the headline. Unfortunately, even established and regular media houses are at times guilty of this kind of bad behaviour,” explains Javadekar.

He advises readers to check supporting sources to determine the information and to ask the experts on veracity and what needs to be done. “Fake news is even called junk news because of its deliberate nature. It can be fabricated or can even be driven by propaganda, designed to mislead the reader for different reasons,” Javadekar warns.

In this backdrop, he reiterates the need for self-regulation. “Otherwise, this will become even worst and it would be impact everyone across all sectors. Corrective steps should be taken before that,” he says.

As digital grows, insights from industry bodies such Kantar indicate that rural India is picking digital even faster creating a wave of digital adoption. In India’s ambition to become a trillion-dollar economy, digital will play a pivotal role and it would be critical to put the right structure in place, right now.