How India can Fight the Malign of Fake News? Indian startups are joining forces with global giants to efficiently fight the battle between fake and fact
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An estimated half-a-billion of India's population has already adopted the growing culture of consuming data online. With the increasing intake of media through the internet, social media has become the source of proliferating misinformation and propaganda. Governments and companies globally are concerned, so should you.
With the world's largest democracy undergoing elections, this seems like the right time to battle the malign. How often do you take a forwarded message seriously? Not pretty if the recent survey by the non-profit Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and data journalism portal Factly is to be believed.
One thing that the survey proved though, India severely lacks social-media hygiene. While there's no blind trust associated with the opinionated propaganda, sections of the country's population aged above 50 and below 20 are easily swayed by fake news unlike those who are well versed with how the play works.
The Real Source of Fake News
While the debate in the US is hyper-focused on the Facebook newsfeed, globally, the real challenge is closed messaging apps like WhatsApp, Viber, Telegram and FB Messenger. The sad part is that 80 per cent of the times a smartphone chime with a message on these platforms, propaganda is being addressed.
However, it is not social media but the trusted news outlets that are classified as the harbingers of misinformation. "Many respondents expressed lack of trust over conventional media (with suggestions of them being corrupted or paid) and thus their faith in contents shared by common people over social media," IAMAI said in a press release.
Apparently, Indians feel that the media organizations, if take the onus, can truly curb the spread of fake information. Among the ways to fight the plight of deceptive data are fact-checking organizations that are now gaining a place among the aware crowd. Surprisingly, over four in 10 Indians haven't heard of fact-checking organizations, IAMAI found.
A recent Reuters Institute survey of English-language Indian internet users found that 52 per cent of respondents gets untrustworthy news via WhatsApp and Facebook in similar proportions. Multiple fact-checking mechanisms are now operating throughout the globe to expose such misinformation. Indian fact-checking websites like AltNews and Boom frequently deflate fake political posts.
Rakesh Dubbudu, the Founder of Factly shared, "India is unique in that sense because a large section of our population has learnt about technology (social media) through smartphones, making the problem more complex." Sharing an anecdote of the trustworthy bubble most senior citizens live in where they believe the stories their peers share, Dubbudu states that they bring the same trust online too.
Social Media Struggle
The ever-growing dissemination of fake news has generated the need for renowned platforms to join forces with the startups to efficiently fight the stigma. Factly is currently working with Facebook to undertake the fact-checking operations for the platform. "If fact-checkers work independently, it won't work, they need to work with mainstream media and technology companies to magnify the impact," Dubbudu stressed.
To fight the malign, "All the stakeholders have to work together including the government, technology companies, law & order, media, academia; everyone has to do their bit," as there's no single solution to fight the problem. In the shorter term, we need to ensure that there are enough checks and balances on fake news but from the long-term perspective, digital literacy would play an important role.
In a bid to battle the bad reputation WhatsApp has garnered over the years for being the primary source of spreading misinformation, the messaging platform recently launched a tip line for Indians to submit rumours and uncertain information to combat fake news. To accomplish the hill-sized task, local startup Proto is working to classify messages sent to the service by users as true, false, misleading or disputed.
They will also build a database of such content to better understand misinformation. Fake news is a big challenge the globe is facing today. Neither the global giants nor the local platforms can individually solve the issue. "The challenge of viral misinformation requires more collaborative efforts and cannot be solved by any one organisation alone," WhatsApp said in a statement.
More the Merrier
One such platform is Logically, a technology-led platform that uses artificial Intelligence with human insight to fine-comb news coverage to curb the spread of fake news. While individual fact checking companies in India may have during their lifetime run 700 to 800 fact checks, Logically can analyze more than 1000 stories in less than three days.
Logically's algorithms can detect bias, inconsistency, and inaccuracy. By tackling the wider problem of misinformation, it provides individuals with a bird's eye view of the news ecology. While the WhatsApp-backed Boom has an 11-member fact-checking team, Logically boasts of 25 individuals only dedicated to fact-checking.
Apart from fact-checking the app also looks to analyze the credibility of the information shared. Giving an example of Twitter, Lyric Jain, the Founder & CEO of Logically shared that through network analysis, the platform identifies "the specific accounts on Twitter that are more likely to spread fake information than others and we've identified these accounts and their path of propagation."
While still at a nascent stage, the platform has analyzed 120 million articles consisting of over 30 million sentences. Logically has a very extensive ingesting system that takes news from 100,000 different sources before figuring out if it is factually correct or not. "We want to make sure that the elections in India are well informed," Jain stated.
Agenda for Elections
WhatsApp's parent company, Facebook has claimed of proactively disabling bots and fake accounts being used for political interference in India. The platform recently removed about one million abusive accounts with the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) tools along with nearly 700 Pages, Groups and accounts for violating its policies.
In the latest efforts to ensure that the elections in India are fair and free from interference, both foreign and domestic, Facebook has expanded partnerships with third-party fact-checkers to seven accredited organizations in India. These assembled fact-checkers cover 8 of India's 23 official languages and the platform is looking to add more.
"In a country largely driven by local and community news, we knew it was critical to have fact-checking partners who could review content across regions and languages," Ajit Mohan, Facebook's managing director and vice president in India, wrote in a recent company blog post. To maintaining the integrity of elections, the fact-checkers will write an article to report on the actual facts if a story is found false.
Micro-blogging website Twitter has also announced a new tool to make it easier for users to report attempts to interfere in the general elections in India through the spread of misleading information about voting. It earlier launched an Ads Transparency Centre that allows anyone to view details on political campaigning ads and billing information in India.