Trying to control the spread of fake news was primarily more of an American crisis during their last election, however, the fake news epidemic has now gained momentum in India. With a low literacy rate and an increasing internet proliferation, India is becoming a hub of counterfeiting information.
Shashi Tharoor, an Indian congressman known for his pertinent sense of humour, has introduced a new word – webaqoof – into the 21st century Hinglish dictionary. A webaqoof is someone who believes every word or information on the internet and social media to be true.
As the Indian mass keeps succumbing to the increasing internet proliferation and extensive use of smartphones, the urban dictionary of Tharoor comes with a subtle and apposite word to describe the foolishness of the mass in terms of hoax stories shared on social media and instant-messaging applications. So often we come across excited friends and relatives sending misinformation via WhatsApp messages and sharing distorted and baseless stories on Facebook. Is it that they do it for fun; the trend says most of the people believe these baseless ideas are mostly shared and taken seriously without even verifying the source.
Earlier Tharoor tweeted ‘exasperating farrago of distortions, misrepresentations & outright lies being broadcast by an unprincipled showman masquerading as a journalst (sic)” for a showbiz man making unprecedented remarks on his wife’s death. He said that this was using a television platform to demean the profession of journalism.
New Hinglish 21st century dictionary:
*Webaqoof*: “one who believes every claim or allegation on the internet & social media must be true”
— Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor) July 25, 2017
The laughter riot subsides when the real side of the rumour-mongering Indian media as well as social media surfaces. Even the social media giants, Facebook promised that it will tighten its content policy to fight the fake news issue.
Instances of fake news in India can be a long list; however, the few that really gained a lot of traction are furbished below.
Last week, a story doing the rounds in mobile inboxes and social media pages claimed that Gorkhaland will become an independent state within a week and the government has started to make provision for the same. However, in a statement made earlier by the Centre clarified that the BJP-ruled government is not in support of a separate state as demanded by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha.
Earlier last week, a report stating Sonia Gandhi is trying to find a more active political role for her daughter Priyanka was also rubbished by Indian National Congress media department calling it ‘mischievous instance of fake news’.
Nostradamus predicted the rise of Modi – Really? In one such fake stories circulated during the elections in 2014, some François Gautier said that in some of the unrevealed manuscripts of the medieval prophecies made by Nostradamus, he mentioned someone called Narendrus who would rule India.
During the demonetisation period as the news currency notes were coming out, it was propagated that the new Indian legal bills have GPS chips installed in them. The Reserve Bank of India had to clarify that the news was fake and there was no chip embedded.
If NDTV starts issuing apologies for all of its #fakenews it wouldn’t have time to air any news
— Srikanth (@srikanthramanam) August 21, 2017
Not only the newer portals on the Internet but even the tenured ones have fallen prey to fake reporting in India. In a space where the growing intolerance in the population have found various expressions of hatred and violence, this probably is one of the most crucial aspects that the cyber wing of the government should look into. Moreover, like Tharoor pointed out, it also depends on the people who are subjected to this kind of baseless reporting to make a choice; whether they want to be rational or an out and out webaqoof!