A journalism that is genuine and effective seems to be having a hard time to bring to fore the real picture and make an impact. How the role of media in times of digitalisation has changed and somewhere lost its very purpose is what I wish to discuss here.According to a UNESCO 2018 handbook on ‘Journalism, fake news and disinformation’,in the high-speed information free-for-all on social media platforms and internet, everyone can be a publisher. As a result, citizens struggle to discern what is true and what is false. Cynicism and distrust rule. Extreme views, conspiracy theories and populism flourish and once-accepted truths and institutions are questioned.This is probably the crux of what we are seeing present day. There is unregulated content on social media. There are screaming anchors on news channels, who speak unprepared and disregard every ethical code of conduct while conducting debates. There are news channels, that host programmes which are in stark opposition to what a democracy should hold.Information or disinformationWe are constantly flooded with all kinds of unsolicited information, fed to newsfeeds everyday. It gets problematic because it may contain ‘junk’ as well, which means presenting unverified facts in the manner that does intends to sensationalise or mislead.People turn to media for access to knowledge and information about various events taking place around the world. When this media offers judgements, tweaks information for sensationalism, spreads hatred through polarisation or allows manipulation by populist leaders or Government, it critically damages its very own real purpose.It is not wrong to say that this phenomenon of disinformation was never there before. However, technology has given it wheels to run faster and penetrate deeper.Stephanie Busari says that we are all publishers in this age of digitalisation, so we need to be careful before we read and share anything.In a short video from Ted.com, Stephanie Busari, journalist at the CNN, voiced her concern regarding the harm that fake news can do and how we must abstain from it.Social media-biggest dilemma of our livesA 2018 study by the scholars of MIT had found that false news on twitter diffused and travelled faster than real news. According to their study, it takes as long as six times for real news to reach 1500 people in comparison to false news. False news has a 70 percent chance of being retweeted than true stories.India is rapidly expanding its digital wings. It is estimated that the number of smartphone users will rise to around 820 million in the next two years. And with the Government’s recent PM-WANI (Wifi Access Network Interface) initiative, the digital print of India will only see a big surge.With more access, comes a greater concern to educate the masses on practising proper online behaviour. People hiding behind those screens enter anything, unconditionally share information or disinformation and even indulge in trolling and unnecessary bullying.With infiltration and inundation of all kinds of content on social media, it has not only puzzled the public but infuriated them as well. There are serious doubts about the authenticity of the content forwarded. Disinformation is eclipsing real news, true stories, genuine journalism.Social Media being such a big platform connecting people, must hold responsibility by making scenario analysis. With almost everyone with a handset in their hands, a click can change lives of people for good or bad.How social media can be used or misused is another subject? I would share two examples where we saw lives and events changing.Baba ka DhabaA small food stall of an 80-year old man and his wife became an overnight sensation. A Youtuber made a small video of the stall and interviewed old man. He started crying while talking about his poor financial state since lockdown. In the next few hours, people made this a video viral showing sympathy for the man. The next few days saw a huge flock of customers lining up at his stall to eat. But this effect of social media was only short-lived and after a few weeks, nobody cared about him anymore. The poor man’s fame rose and fell like a fad.Old protesting farmer’s imageRecent incidence of false news was unveiled in the backdrop of the ongoing farmer protests in Delhi. In the last week of November, an image of an law enforcement officer wielding his baton on an elderly man during the protest, went viral. The image was shared by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on twitter shaming the act, in response to which BJP IT cell head Amit Malviya shared a clipped video showing that the man was never hit.However, Twitter tagged the BJP leader’s tweet as a form of ‘manipulated media’. It was done in accordance with Twitter’s policy of managing ‘synthetic and manipulated media’, after it was verified that the video was clipped and incomplete.Audience discretion on news ingestionBut is it so easy to get manipulated? So easy to polarise us? How many times have we read something, analysed its content and consequences before sharing it? An associate professor of Management at the Kellogg School, pointed out, there’s an assumption that fake news exacerbates polarisation, but it might be the case that polarization exacerbates fake news.He gave two psychological theories to explain our susceptibility to the so-called ‘Fake news’. He gave the idea of ‘motivated reasoning’ and ‘naive realism’ to explain these phenomenon. Motivated reasoning means that we will always believe what conforms to our opinions. Isn’t it why we share content by just reading headline and not reading inside of it? Naive Realism is the idea that our perception is correct and those who disagree are uninformed and biased. It is probably why we keep labelling the dissenters! What we choose to watch, will mark content for our social media walls, and decide ratings for the news channels as well. Thus, we must abstain from sharing disinformation or watching channels that intend to harm public interest and disseminate unrealistic paranoia. At the end of the day, they always say, viewer discretion is required. That is true indeed. It is time we educated ourselves about the kind of content that is good or bad for our mental health and social order. We need to condone and condemn the amplified voices that purposefully spread hatred, polarise our society and fool us into believing falsehood.By Tavleen Kour
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