By Bikram Vohra
Fake watches. Fake handbags. Fake branded shoes and clothes. Fake spare parts for cars that are cheaper and you would be stupid to buy them. The world we live in where fake is for real.
But where it is really hurting is fake news. And not because the US President has sanctified it and made it the flip side of the truth but because it is a runaway horse and in the realm of the fake the stakes here are very high.
The torrent of daily news averaging 4000 hours available per person per day has such a high level of untruth in it that even the Jesting Pilate can ask what truth is but he will have to wait a long time before he gets an answer.
Fact is that fake news in media is something we will have to live with for now. We let it out of the bottle and it will not go back that easily. And while there has been considerable misuse of the freedoms of the fourth estate the worrying factor is that in the clean up what will be generated is fear, intimidation and an arbitrary accusation of wrongdoing.
Some months back a certain individual woke up in the morning in Goa, India, and decided to play what he thought was a prank. With Chief Minister of the state Manohar Parrikar abroad where he had gone for a pancreatic procedure and was recuperating this gentleman (if you can call him that) elected to put out a tweet claiming the CM had died.
And he did so without the slightest qualm. In this instant communication the ‘death’ was public knowledge in a few turns of the second hand on the clock. Not all countries have severe laws about misuse of social media.
At about the same time at Turkey’s Istanbul airport passengers were seen wearing T-shirts with hostile to India slogans with regard to attacks on girls. It caused a furor and much was made of this blatant rudeness until it was discovered that a young man in Kolkata had superimposed these slogans through photoshop and released these pictures. They were totally homemade.
There is a supreme difference between getting a fact wrong in an endeavour to uncover the truth and innuendo, half truths, surmises and blatant rumour.
The policing website Endgadget writes a frightening epitaph to authenticity, in Parkland, Florida, where at least 17 students were killed. This gory incident has become the benchmark for the dangers of fake news. During the shooting’s aftermath, hoaxes and disinformation spread on Twitter. It’s a phenomenon that happens after every tragedy, and it doesn’t seem to be going away.
To quote: “As is common in these cases, many of the initial fake tweets misidentified the gunman. A few tweets from a fake Bill O’Reilly account, for example, claimed that there were two shooters (one of whom was the actual gunman, Nikolas Cruz) and the other was Sam Hyde. Hyde is a comedian whose photo was also circulated as the alleged shooter in previous tragedies like the ones in San Bernardino and Las Vegas.
Others were also falsely accused of being the attacker, including German YouTuber DrachenLord and 24-year-old Marcel Fontaine (who was misidentified as being part of the “Antifa” movement). Some tweets combined false claims of lost relatives with photos of people who weren’t involved in the shooting. One tweet even showed a photo of conservative radio host Bill Mitchell, claiming he was his missing grandfather.”
Most professionals in media take pride in getting their ducks in a row. But being human errors can be made in isolation. You can get a date wrong, a name misspelled, a location incorrect, it happens. But it is mutually exclusive from the chase so to speak and does not detract from the indictment of corruption, malfeasance, breach of promise, collapse of trust, conduct unbecoming or whatever else the act of omission or commission is.
According to MACH: Fake news is fueled in part by advances in technology — from bots that automatically fabricate headlines and entire stories to computer software that synthesizes Donald Trump’s voice and makes him read tweets to a new video editing app that makes it possible to create authentic-looking videos in which one person’s face is stitched onto another person’s body.
Experts say AI systems would help fill the gaps left by Snopes, Truth or Fiction, and other online fact-checking outlets, whose human fact-checkers lack the bandwidth to evaluate every article that appears online. These systems could also work with various fake news alert plugins. Between willing motor mouths and an audio-visual media which has gone berserk.
Unless, like the physician we are prepared to heal ourselves one day the authorities will usurp our rights because we are allowing our own reckless minority to run rampant and wreck our credibility as a profession.
And this can start by initially acknowledging that thanks to social platforms everyone is now a reporter and photographer and the profession of journalism has been usurped. The distinction between professional writers and troublemakers and trolls has to be made.
Unfortunately, the line is blurring. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is pretty much on the mark when she says that today every government has to contend with lies, fake sites, bots, things that are conjured up and packaged as fact. Merkel has been trolled as a Stasi agent and Hitler’s daughter. Recently, the Germans had to run around madly after a story broke on the Net that a 13 year old schoolgirl in Berlin had been raped by Middle Easterners on her way to school. It was a fabrication.
Two similar incidents occurred in the USA to underscore dangerous middle easterners as if to add credence to the Donald Trump crackdown. None of it was authentic. Ipredators, as they are known deliberately engage in criminal and deceptive behaviour and in 2016 a medical study showed that they are psychologically warped and suffer several problems.
The Global Assessment of Internet Trolling (GAIT) estimates that they are largely psychopaths, dangerous, sadistic and carry no moral compass. They sanctify chaos and cruelty and are actually in need of medical help. Trolls may rule the choppy waters under the information highway but if they think they are safe from the legal ramifications arising from their nastiness they are mistaken. There is a new awareness to this cyber sickness. None of these measures would be needed if people simply behaved more responsibly.
The inclination to send off forwards because the ‘news’ is sensational and feel wanted because you are the first to spread it is something that needs to brought under personal control. Do not do it.
Don’t pass on or like or give any credence to reports that smack of hostility. Be careful when it concerns faith, nationality, whips sentiment and smacks of prejudice. That is in itself a first step to fight the war.