What are New Age Fake News and Disinformation?

Misinformation and fake news quickly spread on social media, even to trained eyes. It also sees a drastic jump during the elections. Our next report will learn more about the ancient threat

Fake news | Spreading rumors | Fake News India

Bhaswar Kumar |
New Delhi

Data from the National Crime Records Bureau shows that the number of fake news cases and the spread of rumors nearly tripled in 2020 compared to 2019.

A total of 1,527 cases of fake news were registered in 2020, compared to 486 cases in 2019 and 280 cases in 2018. It is clear that fake news and misinformation are a growing threat in India. But what exactly qualifies as fake news? Let’s find out.

Many things you read online, especially in your social media feeds, may seem to be true. But often they are not.

Especially misleading are articles that read and look like a news article. But in fact they are just mimicking a news article and deliberately promoting false information.

That is the strict and narrow definition, which says that any news article that is demonstrably and intentionally false and that is designed to manipulate your perception of real events, facts and statements qualifies as fake news.

The phenomenon of fake news is closely linked to politics, especially in places where it is highly partisan.

Therefore, some experts recommend avoiding using the term fake news, as its close association with politics can lead to a very narrow definition that may not be adequate to describe the various forms of misinformation prevalent today.

Instead, the term false information or misinformation may be preferable as it can refer to a wide variety of misinformation on topics such as the environment, health and economics across all platforms and genres.

For example, while fake news is narrowly construed as fake political news stories, the term disinformation can also refer to WhatsApp messages containing rumors and altered images.

This broader definition is especially useful when dealing with fake news and misinformation in the Indian context.

According to experts, most of the misinformation in India comes in the form of images and videos, with the attached text blur usually being the source of the misinformation. And these are overwhelmingly shared via WhatsApp on mobile phones.

Images and videos on the internet are often reused to alter their original context and are then used to spread misinformation.

For example, on February 27, 2019, Pakistani social media shared a video purporting to show a captured Indian Air Force pilot. These reports came after Pakistan claimed it shot down two Indian planes in its airspace and arrested a pilot.

However, an Alt News analysis of the video found that it was dated Feb. 19. A day before the Aero India Show in Bengaluru, when two Surya Kiran helicopters crashed during rehearsal, killing one pilot and injuring two others. The video shared on Pakistani social media actually belonged to a citizen in Bengaluru comforting one of the injured pilots who had been dropped from his plane.

Similarly, a viral video on Twitter in January 2019 gave viewers the impression that Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal was intoxicated. In fact, Kejriwal was sober in the video, which was naughty edited instead. Experts therefore advise people to be vigilant and question the information presented.

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First published: Thu 24 February 2022. 08:45 IST

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