Just who was responsible for the widely circulated rumour that the new Rs 2,000 notes have an in-built chip? No one knows how that fake story originated, but it ended up on prime-time television passed off as ‘news’. A large number of media houses picked it up and had it on their websites. 

And despite it sounding too good to be true, there was almost no effort to fact-check.

A fake Whatsapp forward becomes a fake story when established media houses run it without fact-checking – said many panelists at a recent discussion on the trend of fake stories.

b’Representational image |Source: Reutersxc2xa0′

Organised by portal MediaNama at India Habitat Centre, the event titled ‘Fake News, Rumors & Online Content Regulation’ had lawyers, academicians, journalists and IT experts discussing the phenomenon now being blamed for influencing the US presidential elections.

What everyone agreed on was that the advent of digitisation has made it easier for people to share information themselves rather than relying only on a mainstream media platform. This promotes false or half-baked information that may negatively impact people’s perceptions and beliefs.

But many pointed out that quite often, blame lies with media houses for not verifying a “fact” floating around.

Sagar Deoskar, a public affairs associate at Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar’s office, said a certain rumour or distorted fact becomes ‘news’ only after a ‘reputed’ media house carries it.

“Something written on a blog may not be news. It becomes fake news when reputed organisations carry them and twist facts,” he said.

The more popular the platform is, the more credibility the ‘fake’ story gets, he said, adding that ‘fake’ story should be differentiated from misinformation.

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A similar opinion was echoed by Abhimanyu Radhakrishnan, co-founder of i420 Digital Media, who said ‘reputed’ organisations are guilty of promoting fake news stories by giving them space. He said the ‘related stories’ section that appears on websites of mainstream media houses features ads that seem like journalistic content, but in reality are not.

“News-looking stories on penis enlargement and weight loss are written like authentic content. This has really weaponised the stuff to look like news, not ads, in my opinion,” he said.

The industry of fake news is huge, and a growing menace. Meghnad Sahasrabhojanee, a policy leader working at MP Tathagata Satpathy’s office, pointed out how there are organised groups that create fake news with the intention of making their stories go viral. 

“A lot of forwards we get actually originate there…They actually create Whatsapp messages hoping they go viral, And every time it comes back to them, they edit to make it go viral again,” he said.

Very often, political parties are direct facilitators of such fake news, pointed out Apar Gupta, a lawyer.

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But then what is the solution?

One way is for registered media oganisations to verify content and then post counter-narratives to fake stories, they said. This, apart from self-regulation by individuals.

Rajesh Lalwani, Director, Scenario Consulting, said this is the need of the hour because media companies are moving from “economics of clicks” to “economics of engagement” where the game is all about content-sharing.

“Fake news is like passive smoking. You weren’t really smoking, but you consume smoke and get drawn into it,” he said.

(Feature image source: Reuters)