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EDITORIAL ANALYSIS–Shaking the foundation of fake news
The Editorial covers GS paper3 [Social Media Networks & Internal Security]
- Combating fake news is a growing preoccupation with the technology platforms, the political class, the news media.
- Fake news is not a new phenomenon linked to the rise of social media.
- Governments and political actors have always invested in disinformation campaigns to build narratives of their choice.
What is the background?
- Institutional news media is no longer seen as an arbitrator of the ‘real news’.
- It lost credibility due to complicit and motivated reporting.
- The advent of social media has decentralised the creation and propagation of fake news.
- This has led to the difficulty in controlling/eliminating fake news.
What are the responses?
- The current response to fake news primarily revolves around three prongs
- Removal of the fake news item
- Educating the public.
- They are not sufficient in themselves to address the larger ‘political’ problem posed by fake news.
- A rebuttal is a form of fact-checking wherein the fake news is debunked by pointing out errors like mismatch, malicious editing and misattribution.
- If the fake news item appears on institutional handles, attempts are made to have it removed after rebuttal.
- There is pressure on companies like Facebook and YouTube to proactively remove fake news from their platforms and rework their algorithms to ensure that such content does not gain prominence.
- The newly introduced limits on forwarding messages on WhatsApp are due to this discourse.
- This encourages educating the end-users to be more discerning consumers of news.
- It informs them of verification tools so that they can ascertain the accuracy of a news item before sharing it.
- Another emerging strand is tracking the ‘source’ of fake news to address the issue at its root.
What are the challenges?
- Along with de-anonymising all social media accounts it will rise serious issues concerning the invasion of privacy and free speech.
- It may be used by governments to quell dissent.
- Attempting to rebut fake news may be possible to rebut news on one fake instance.
- But the ‘fake news factory’ will keep churning out similar stories to advance its chosen narrative.
- It is impossible to completely ‘remove’ fake news even after rebuttal, given the decentralised nature of dissemination.
- Propagation and virality of a news item are contingent not on its accuracy but on how well it conforms to the dominant narrative.
- The act of ‘rebuttal’, instead of supplanting the original fake news item, could vie for space with the latter.
- The average consumer relies on overall narratives to evaluate a piece of information.
- The increasing complexity of issues and deluge of information has made it impossible for any individual to develop a well-researched stand on all the topics.
- When an individual piece of information conforms to someone’s held beliefs, it is readily accepted and shared.
- Studies have confirmed that people don’t care about finding the ‘truth’ behind a news item and instead look for evidence to support their preferred narrative – confirmation bias.
- Therefore, debunking discrete items of fake news without addressing this battle of narratives will have only marginal value.
- If we are concerned about the impact of fake news, we must address the underlying narratives, instead of merely trying to rebut individual items.
- By addressing the weaknesses that allow the fake news narrative to take root. Eg., the rise of right-wing due to the loss of credibility of the liberal camp.
- Mobilize public opinion around an alternate narrative that makes the fake news item irrelevant.
- Most people cannot hold multiple stories in their head and thus, instead of poking holes in an opponent’s story, it may be more effective to replace it with a different narrative built on facts.