In recent years, India is facing increased instances of misinformation and fake news. The spread of coronavirus has further made people more paranoid. This is not only negatively affecting the opinion of people but also creating problems like law-and-order issues, communal hatred, degrading scientific environment, disincentivizing development and promoting superstition. With the increasing use of social media, such instances of wrong information spread like fire in the jungle.
Suppose you are the District Magistrate of a district in a northern state of India. The district lacks developmental parameters like education, health, nutrition, infrastructure etc. and has been included as an aspirational district. Agriculture continues to be the main occupation of the people in your district. State government has launched several e-governance programmes related to tele-education, tele-medicine, automated PDS shops etc. to improve service delivery to the people. You believe that digital revolution can be a game changer for your district. Also, there are huge opportunities for IT-based industries in your district due to its proximity to the national capital region. You were delighted when the government gave its nod for establishment of 5G infrastructure in the state for high-speed internet connectivity. For this purpose, additional mobile towers are being set up and fibre optic cables are being laid down in your district. Many telecom companies are investing crores of rupees for such installations.
However, one day you got the news that a lot of misinformation about 5G technology is being circulated among people of your district where it is claimed that 5G technology spreads Coronavirus. Multiple videos are being shared on social media asserting that radiation from the 5G tower helps in the mutation of the coronavirus making it more lethal. The rumour became even stronger when a celebrity filed a case in the supreme court alleging that radiation from 5G towers is harmful to humans and the environment. This fuelled paranoia among hundreds of people of the district, leading to several instances where mobile towers were damaged or uprooted in recent weeks. The Department of Telecommunication has advised the public not to believe fake news claiming the 5G network and the spread of COVID-19 are linked. Despite such advisories, the people of your districts are being influenced by false news and trolls. You are a rational person and have always believed that such scientifically proven technology would bring fortune to society. You have made up your mind to dispel such misinformation and promote investment in 5G technology in your district.
Based on the above case study, answer the following questions:
a. What are the reasons for the rise in rumours and fake news in society? How can a person differentiate between a fake and a piece of correct news?
b. You as the DM of the district, how will you address such a situation of misinformation and rumour. Justify your course of action.
(Answer in 250 words) (20)
- The world is today witnessing an infodemic. The rise of rumours and fake news is putting to test the values of rationality, objectivity and truth. It is also antithetical to our Fundamental duty to develop scientific temper and spirit of inquiry.
The reasons for the rise in rumours and fake news are:
- Trust deficit: in case of a trust deficit between the government and the citizens, the citizens view the government's decisions with suspicion.
- Erosion of media ethics: Media today promotes yellow journalism, biased news etc. and for people media is the primary source of information.
- Illiteracy and ignorance: This leads to people believing anything they find on the internet and social media like Facebook, Whatsapp etc.
- Stereotypes: Due to insufficient knowledge and confirmation bias, people tend to believe in what is presented to them.
- Mushrooming use of social media: With the increasing reach of social media more people get influenced by such misinformation.
- Polarisation in society: Lack of tolerance for different faiths, ideas and traditions promotes fake news in the form of hate information.
Difference between fake news and correct news can be done through:
- There is a need to develop an attitude to not take information at face value. People need to develop a critical mindset to identify fake news.
- People should cross verify information from authentic sources like government agencies, trusted media sources etc.
- People can also use technology and fact-checking tools to differentiate between real and fake news.
- By increasing the knowledge base through verifiable sources, one can become more skilled to identify fake news.
As a DM it is my legal and moral responsibility to promote a scientific environment, tolerance and rationality in the district. Situations of misinformation can be addressed in the following manner:
Short term measures
- With the help of the SP, I would deploy sufficient police force to protect the infrastructure.
- With the help of NGOs and local politicians, I would start an awareness program to show that 5G technology is not harmful and also acquaint people with the benefits of 5G technology in various fields.
- Social comparison: With the help of examples like Gurugram, a software hub, I will try to explain to people how embracing new technologies can catalyse the development of the city and also provide employment opportunities.
- I will take strict action against those who are spreading fake news to create fear among antisocial elements.
- I will try to check the spread of fake news by countering it with correct information on social media.
- For instance, the Telangana model of including a police officer in suspicious WhatsApp groups of the district.
- Improving education status and scientific environment of the district.
- For example, computer education in schools, mobile science labs and scientific exhibitions in rural areas etc.
- Participatory governance and transparency need to be promoted to build trust between people and the government.
- Working on the front of tolerance towards different ideas, technology and faiths.
- This can be done through a continuous process of exposure to new ideas through city-wide hackathons, innovation challenges etc.
- Fake news is a growing menace that is weakening the value of truth in society. It needs to be addressed to prevent systemic issues arising from it.