Fighting Fake News: The Quint and BBC Hindi’s Co-produced Series
You can fight a lie, but how do you win a shadow war against misinformation and disinformation?
You can fight a lie, but how do you win a shadow war against misinformation and disinformation? (Photo: iStock)

Fighting Fake News: The Quint and BBC Hindi’s Co-produced Series

Fake news is as old as the Trojan Horse – Homer’s story of Greek deception to win the war against the Romans.

Their weapon – deceit. Their aim – power. Victory over land.

Now imagine a legion of bots crouching within this hollow wooden horse, their virtual faces aglow with untruths as they cruise through high speed digital highways, powered by real world political and financial muscle.

Their weapon – fact confounded with lies. Their aim – power. Victory over minds.

You can fight a lie, but how do you win a shadow war against misinformation and disinformation? Especially the latter where falsehoods are manufactured and disseminated via platforms that have almost no way of filtering fact from fake.

Unwittingly, we as readers, as social media sharers, as curious and concerned citizens, become tools in the dissemination process – through a trusted peer-to-peer system of share and retweet. We are all zipping around on the same digital highway, bombarded with content. It is no longer the conventional “one-to-many” communication model, but an explosion of content simultaneously, relentlessly generated across countless platforms.

And What of Newsrooms and Journalists?

There is the Broken-News-Media-Misfiring view. The voice of doom.

Broadcast and digital newsrooms are driven by speed. Who broke the story first? Who grabbed the audience eyeballs? Readers feel way too entitled and way too spoilt for choice to bother to pay pennies for subscription. Media houses are leaning on ad revenues and advertisers demand audience numbers. Audience numbers, in turn, come through speedy and saucy news. Media houses are also politically and financially aligned with the powers that are often behind the disinformation. Aggregation, curation, analytics, algorithm and greedy digital platforms paint this already dark picture a doomed black.

News is so broken!

But then there is also the Credibility-Wins view. This is the one I believe in.

It is trust, not speed that wins the loyalty of readers. A discredited newsroom or journalist cannot fool the readers long enough. Partisan editorial is evident and lies exposed. It is possible to fact check and still provide readers the news in time. It is enterprise journalism, feet-on-the-ground, rigorous and honest editorial that finally surfaces to the top. Credibility is the biggest brand builder.

Systematic Approach to Debunking Fake News

Fortunately, while it’s easy to spread lies on the Internet, it’s also just as easy to debunk them – via a clever partnership of human and tech intelligence.

It is important for newsrooms to fight this battle in a structured way.

Make technology and instinct your allies in fact checking.

Educate the readers to recognise fake news. Typically, fake news comes from dubious sources and is far too simple in its narrative (truth is mostly layered and complicated). It is important to get readers to think before they click the share button.

Understand the motivation behind the creation of the fake news and how the propaganda is being targeted at likely believers. Also look closely at the attractive formats and headlines used.

Decode the dissemination methods of the fake content. Work with distribution platforms like Facebook and Twitter to report and block fake sources.

Presenting Swachh Digital India

This is war. It is now time to multiply our forces. Time for newsrooms to collaborate, not compete.

It is with this view that BBC Hindi and The Quint are together embarking on a mission we’re calling Swachh Digital India.

We’re setting out to find ways in we can educate newsrooms and readers to be alert to fake news. To find easy, accessible ways to seek out the facts and to reach out to readers, citizen journalists and tech gurus to be part of this fight. It is an interactive, inclusive initiative that reaches out to all stakeholders to encourage them to identify and take down fake stories.

With Swachh Digital India, we’re trying to make the Indian Internet a cleaner, better informed space.

(This article is part of a series done in co-production between The Quint and BBC Hindi called Swachh Digital India. Also read Rajesh Priyadarshi’s Hindi editorial on BBC Hindi here. Read more articles from Swachh Digital India here.)