While the Oxford English Dictionary gets a tremendous press for incorporating 70 Indian terms, including chakka jam and gulab jamun, its poor cousin, the Collins Dictionary, is not to be left behind. It has declared ‘fake news’ the term of the year for 2017. Since 2016, the term’s usage has been increasing by one percentage point, on average, for every day of the year. Never before has such a surge been powered by the efforts of only two tweeting thumbs, attached to the person of the president of the United States.
Fake news is so pervasive that real news professionals are sometimes reading it as real. MSNBC’s Morning Joe programme embarrassed itself by reacting, in all seriousness, to a bizarre tweet from the DPRK News Service: “US media in total disarray as venomous Fox News declares war on noted scholar Donald Trump.”
The ‘news service’ is, of course, a parody Twitter account run by two guys, and is much appreciated for the success with which it channels 20th century communist rhetoric. It reacted to MSNBC’s coverage with another tweet: “US television stooge ‘Morning Joe’ sentenced by revolutionary tribunal in absentia. ‘Morning Joe’ will be pressed to death by heavy rocks.” The North Korean propaganda machine couldn’t have done better itself.
Meanwhile, the US is again threatening a military response to North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, and its leader Kim Jong-Un retaliated with a radical visit to a cosmetics factory in Pyongyang. It received global media attention partly because he was accompanied by his wife Ri Sol-ju, who is rarely seen in public.
The pictures were bound to travel, as the man who habitually poses with guns and warheads posed with lipstick and soap instead, and exhorted workers to produce world-class lipstick and soaps. Related fact: it is estimated that the average resident of a world-class city owns eight times more cosmetics than they use. In Pyongyang, it may be presumed, the ratio is on a more human scale.
In India, a bit of harmless fake news — nothing more than an exaggeration, really — has set off a food fight which quickly polarised the conversation. A story claimed that khichdi is to be designated “India’s national food” while, in reality, the ministry of food processing had listed the mixed-up dish as India’s entry in an international food fair to be held in Delhi this weekend. And its minister, Harsimrat Kaur Badal, had spoken of it as India’s most healthy food. She hails from a part of the country where khichdi is commonly prescribed for the ailing, because the local version is free of spices.
The “national food” exaggeration was immediately followed by an uproar on social media, with people proffering the competing claims of machher jhol, dhokla and puttu, according to regional extraction, and generally agreeing that biryani had a strong competing claim on account of its wide prevalence.
They also wanted to know if they would now have to eat khichdi standing up, as a mark of respect, and would be sent to Pakistan, that mother lode of biryani, if they didn’t. And India TV found the time to investigate if biryani is Hindu or Muslim. Rather than our food preferences, the uproar revealed something about the current state of the Indian psyche, which is up to there with having to celebrate and respect all sorts of things by government mandate.
The New York Times has taken a loaded step, opening a door to the Dark Web, the part of the internet which is not visible to search engines and can only be accessed through the Tor anonymising network. The hidden site is still experimental, but the paper plans to eventually host its entire content on it. Accessible at http://www.nytimes3xbfgragh.onion through a Torified browser, it will be the paper’s gateway for readers everywhere who seek anonymity because of local restrictions or fears of state surveillance.
The Dark Web was created precisely for people who could be penalised for their communications, like journalists and welfare workers operating under repressive regimes. However, the internet is a dual-use technology, and the world inside Tor became a notorious marketplace for illicit drugs, guns, mercenary and assassination services, and extreme sexual content. Following a cleanup by the FBI, the entry of the NYT marks a significant step towards its re-gentrification.