The year 2017 was also the year of fake news. No, fake news was not invented this year, but it certainly made an impact by infiltrating our social timelines and messaging platforms. From WhatsApp posts on Rs 5,000 notes that will expire in a few weeks, to Facebook videos of currencies with GPS embeds, and photographs that show history in a new light, social media has become a free market for peddling “falsehoods and half truths”.
But are we doing anything about it? For those of us who have let social media platforms become our predominant source of news, authenticity of a certain piece of news never comes in the way of hitting the share button. Unwittingly we end up extending the reach of these posts despite something, somewhere telling us that it can’t really be right.
This can’t go on for long. We can no longer afford to be just another emoji on that post. It is time we started thinking about the consequences of our actions online. That funny political meme that just came in on one of your WhatsApp groups might be unwittingly helping bring down a government or prop up an unworthy candidate. After all, over the past year or so the impact of our virtual choices have started making themselves felt in our real lives. Ask the British or the Americans if you have doubts about what the Internet can do to you. The risk is not confined to the episodes of Black Mirror, it is very much here… in every click you make.
So here is a list of dos and don’ts that Internet users in India can follow in 2018.
1. Play the editor. Don’t leave yourself at the mercy of one source. Read different viewpoints and voices, or you might end up with a Brexit or a Trump.
2. Of course, you love to read about Salman Khan, but read some boring, but good, journalism too. If you read less of the good stuff, publishers will start investing less in it. Remember, Salman won’t come to your rescue when the world you are used to starts to crumble, but good journalism might.
3. Even if you are pretty sure of the source, don’t trust it blindly. Validate/verify it with another source that you believe. Yes, times are such.
4. Don’t become a slave of the algorithm, make it your slave. If you keep reading the same stuff, the algorithm will keep pushing more of it. So make sure you follow and read sources that you might not really like. Doing so will ensure your timeline is not skewed in favour of a person, an ideology or party. The balance that newsrooms used to strive for is something you the reader will now have to take charge of.
5. Anybody can post on WhatsApp and anything can go viral, so don’t give it more credibility than you would a wall poster on a dusty street. Use good sources to verify that outlandish claim you just read on the messaging platform. Forward only if you are convinced about its veracity.
6. Don’t trust the videos either. Anything that can be faked will be. People just have so much time or are paid to fake it. From CCTV to archival footage everything has the potential to go viral with a little bit of tweaking. You have the power to discern, don’t surrender it.
7. Do your own research if you are in doubt. But do go deeper than Wikipedia or wiki anything, those can be changed — and often are — to suit a certain agenda or narrative.
8. Internet is all about search and find, but don’t fall for content that is made to be found. Ask yourself, is this the best I can get? It often won’t be.
9. The trolls don’t matter. The best way to put them down is by not responding to their 140-character grammar-challenged vitriol. Nothing frustrates them more than a target who refuses to engage. That said, do indulge yourself by slaying a troll or two once in awhile.
10. Trust no one, no single source. Remember, the reader is no longer the king, traffic is. So more of what you are reading will be created instead of what you should be reading. The internet will only be as good as you are.