How to Avoid Fake News?

Posted by The Open Page | 10th April 2017

Today, a news item in TOI attracted my attention. It was titled ‘Schools teaching how to avoid fake news?’ Some research on net told me that in USA from schools to colleges now they are offering civic course teaching them how to avoid fake news. It is said that this trend has become more apparent after the recent presidential election in USA where Mr. Donald Trump defeated Mrs. Hillary Clinton. It is also claimed that media ran many fake news stories about Mr. Trump. These were effectively countered by very active social media. Mr. Trump has openly blamed the media for being unfair and giving deliberately mischievous and false news. I do not want to get into the argument of who is right and who is wrong. But the fact of the case is that all of us including in India, we are bomb-barded with news 24 X 7 and of course all the news are not believable and a few of the stories are planted by certain sections for motives. These planted news are at cost or not is another issue.  
It is said that news channels make public opinion. These fake news are run again and again many times over so that public tends to believe in what they are saying. The fake news are not planted in one channel only but in many other channels who are willing to run it for a cost or have a similar business and political interest. Once a common man sees the same story is run on more than one channels, he tends to consider the fake news as a true story. This phenomena then builds an opinion that the planter so wanted. 
For an ordinary citizen to differentiate fake news from true stories is extremely difficult. Therefore he must be trained and guided to identify a planted story as fake. Even Indian Election Commission is aware of the bad effect of the fake news, called paid news by election commission, on the voters. They have put in place the guide lines to identify paid news and punish the agency/ party who plant the story. How effective these measures are is a different story.
Therefore, to protect new generation from making their opinion based on fake news is a responsibility we all need to share. I am of the opinion that this responsibility is of parents, teachers and society at large. Once a person learns to differentiate fake from true, the same training stands in good taste with him in his personal and professional life too and he will be a good citizen, person, employee or employer and a leader. This is because he then will not get carried away with what he hears but he will ascertain the truthfulness of the story put forward to him.
In our daily life we are experiencing this. Every day we get many WhatsApp messages that we forward without going into the details of its truthfulness. For example, today on Valentine Day I received a message from four different groups asking all to remember Bhagat Singh on this day since as per the message he was hung on 14 February. All my friends in contact list forwarded the message without knowing the truth. Bhagat Singh was supposed to be hung by British on 31 Mar. Instead he was hung till he died on 23 Mar. I sent message informing this fact to all. But I am sure many now think and will remember that Bhagat Singh was hung on 14 February. This is a very small example, but it is happening all over through social media, TV media and through messages of Whats app and other applications on our mobile.
In view of the above, I feel that USA has taken right step in formalizing the training to children of all ages how to avoid fake news. In India though, I do not think that such training could be introduced sometimes soon, but schools and colleges at least should conduct some informative seminars in their institutes and initiate debate on the subject to create awareness.
Veteran Wg Cdr Jaydev Desai

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