Fake News May be a National Security Threat – 1965 War Is Proof
In my growing years and actually till very late, I considered the media, especially print, an entity which could never lie. During the 1965 India-Pakistan War, after listening to news broadcasts, I came to know for the first time that Pakistan claimed to be successful in the same battle that we had won; perhaps that’s when I realised that it wasn’t such a truthful world.
Cut to 2009. Another news story, obviously complete fake, which shocked me was published by Islamabad’s Daily Mail. On 11 September 2009, the headline of a news story read: ‘RAW supplied prostitute women to Indian Army,’ with an accompanying blurb, ‘Indian Army to Deploy Prostitutes as Women Battalion in Held Kashmir.’
This was a news story by fictitious writers who were supposedly the newspaper’s ‘non-existent’ New Delhi correspondents.
Link Between Fake News and National Security
Fake news, therefore, is not new. It is obviously much older than my realisation which came rather late. It actually lends credence to the age-old strategy of disinformation which has been transformed into psychological operations over a period of time. These mind war games are slick, well-thought actions with an intention to target the mind of the adversary and its leadership.
Yet, not all fake news items are structured and scientific; many such stories could be random, without much inkling of the effect but driven with the sole aim of creating confusion, dissension, antipathy for some entities, misleading and inspired by political vendetta, or personal enmity.
Social Media Has Made it Easy for Fake News Industry
The advent of social media has spurred the proliferation of fake news. Print media is careful about the source of news but that depends on the credibility of publications; the same principles do not apply across the board.
A short and indiscrete news report may be ignored by readers but if the same is circulated via social media, it is easily consumed.
In a conflict zone, especially the one involving proxies and hybrid conditions, spread of antipathy among people against the army is a well-established strategy. It is not difficult to incite passion as certain issues like alleged human rights violations are kept alive through disinformation campaigns.
‘Forwarded as Received’
The video format is popular for the dissemination of fake news on social media. With diverse platforms available, one does not have to even depend on YouTube, as embedded short clips can be easily circulated on WhatsApp, seemingly a villain among social media sites.
The proliferation of WhatsApp groups whets the voyeuristic appetite of people.
A recent example of fake news, as part of Pakistan’s strategy of ‘bleed by a thousand cuts’ against India, includes a two-minute video which tries to impinge on the minds of Indian Muslims that before the Indo-Pak conflict of 1965, there existed a Muslim Regiment in the Indian Army which refused to fight the Pakistanis. It further claims that this regiment was disbanded, and thereafter, no Muslim was ever allowed to fight on the border.
The fake video supplements this with a 2010 article from Pakistani media which tries to question why Muslim representation in the Indian Army remains low and how statistics are never available to counter such notion. With people likely being gullible on this subject, such WhatsApp messages-cum-slanderous news will be absorbed instantly.
Also Read: Who Really Won the India-Pakistan 1965 War?
Countering Narrative That’s Being Led by Fake News
These are crude attempts to exploit sentiments at a given time but that’s exactly how fake news works in terms of threats to national security. Here it is not a question of personal revenge or political embarrassment but one which is aimed at casting aspersions on an entire community and exploiting the public’s general lack of knowledge and memory.
How does one counter fake news? Obviously, digital literacy is the ideal answer, but that’s a distant dream. It would take long before people are even aware about such issues as they usually surf through headlines and have vague idea about today’s events as well as those of the past.
Character assassination of leading public figures and unhealthy business rivalry can also be temptations for those in the business of fake news to resort to such means.
Building a new narrative in order to prevent integration of the diverse Indian society and pushing potential triggers is the abiding strategy of Pakistan. Fake news co-opted with social media is a lethal means of creating dissension resulting in alienation.
To counter this, India needs more than just the services of its fine intelligence organisations. It urgently needs professional bodies comprising information experts and perhaps a constitutional body on communication strategy to avert threat emanating from the spread of fake news.
(The writer, a former GOC of the army’s 15 Corps, is now associated with Vivekanand International Foundation and Institute of Peace & Conflict Studies. He can be reached at @atahasnain53. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)