Polarisation of opinion is fast becoming a major issue the world over, including India and its domestic politics. There are several factors that lead to this, with two of the greatest factors being mainstream media and social media. People generally believe whatever they see and read on both, without bothering to see if the claims made within the story are backed by facts, and refuse to verify the authenticity of the story themselves. We know only too well about the mainstream media angle of how poorly-researched stories are fabricated and then made viral, as in the case of the Kathua rape. What happens thereafter is that social media, be it Twitter handles or Facebook pages, pick up on these viral trends and post articles/tweets, leading to the furtherance of the viral phenomena. Irrespective of what developments or revelations take place thereafter, the initial viral narrative is still the most commonly agreed upon version of events. This is known as the snowball effect in social media.
We live in the era of data manipulation and fact manipulation. Twisting facts and delivering them in a manner which suits personal or political interests is one of the greatest skill sets of our times, notwithstanding however unethical it might be. Findings reported in the March 9th publication of Science state that after analysing more than 4.5 million tweets from 2006 to 2017, there is a very clear indication that fake news stories spread much faster than authentic ones. Researchers found that fake news spreads as much as 6 times faster than authentic news, despite the fact that the original sources may be more in number for authentic news posts than there are for fake news posts.
Furthermore, humans are more responsible for spreading false news than bots are, contrary to what was previously believed. One of the reasons for this is that people tend to believe in what they read if it suits their political leanings, and readily share viral news in order to be in sync with the trend and not get judged/ridiculed for thinking contrary to the prevailing narrative.
Taking the Kathua case for instance, the initial narrative that the rape took place within the premises of the temple is still the popularly agreed upon version, even after the chargesheet has been shown to be completely contradictory and the facts that have emerged henceforth clearly indicate that the act took place in the forest. Even after CCTV footage has surfaced showing one of the co accused in Meerut while the chargesheet claims he was in Jammu burying the body, most media outlets as well as ‘popular’ Twitteratis like Bollywood celebrities are hush on the issue. Is this because the issue is not viral anymore, or is it because they wouldn’t want to look foolish after all the outrage targeting Hinduism and Hindus in the aftermath of the incident?
The real trouble here is that the truth is the least important factor for news outlets and popular celebrities seeking free PR. Sensationalising events, even something as gruesome as the rape of a minor eight year old, is more important for them in order to suit their narrative of events. Politicising an incident takes priority over having journalistic integrity and being honest to the public. These are indeed dangerous times, and are eerily resonant of George Orwell’s 1984, but this time instead of the Government stifling the truth, its the combination of internet media and internet users, who both assist each other, rather unknowingly, in spreading fake news.
Another unfortunate consequence of this phenomena is that a government pursuing development and good governance is not given its due credit, and the best example for this is the recent fulfillment of PM Modi’s promise of electrifying every village in India. It is an understatement to say that it is a massive achievement, not just for PM Modi or the BJP, but for us as a 70 year old republic. It marks a significant shift upwards in terms of civilisational progress, something that deserves commendation irrespective of one’s political ideology. It is disheartening to see the lack of acknowledgement on part of the press and the media towards the attainment of this goal, which should swell every citizen’s chest with pride.
The direction in which the internet and social media are heading, i.e, absolutely unchecked, means the onus is always on the reader to question the authenticity of a story.
You shouldn’t be hesitant to be pointed out by the crowd, or to be called out by the agents of political correctness. Be on the correct side of the story, not the politically correct one. And as dutiful citizens, we must give credit where its due. Jai Hind!