There is a massive debate raging in USA over the use of social media to plant fake news, especially political fake news and use it as a leverage to win elections. Twitter was very swift in putting out a statement saying that it will not be putting out unfiltered political ads. But people are fuming that Facebook is not doing the same, wanting to keep its cash register ringing as the elections in USA are one year away. The European Union too EU urged Facebook, Google and Twitter to take more action to fight fake news on their platforms.
And why look so far away; within India itself, the menace of fake news is monstrous. More than Facebook or Twitter, here, it is Whatsapp which is the devil for misinformation and propaganda. We saw this media being used with not a shred of conscience to spread fake news during the election campaigning. At least 31 people were killed in 2017 and 2018 as a result of mob attacks fuelled by rumours on WhatsApp and social media.
In India the problem is much bigger as we are Whatsapp’s biggest market with more than 20 crore Indians using the app. While much of these daily conversations involve people making plans, sharing jokes and catching up - political messages and videos are also shared widely.
With the explosion of information, with too much news coming in from all corners of the world, through various vehicles of media, it has become virtually impossible to always go back and check for veracity of the source. In this fast moving world, the one with the “breaking news” rules the rooster. Thus when there are so many sources and so much news, media has become a matter of choice – people choose what they news they want and which source they trust. Trust has become a matter of choice.
The ideal role of the media is to provide an unbiased, objective and truth account of facts about things happening around us. And today, this “idealism” remains just that – a notion. Though we take the news which we receive as “truthful”, depending on the source, we do verify – maybe from BBC, CNN or their websites. But surely news published on Twitter or Facebook cannot be taken as the truth.
And that brings us to the question as to what exactly does the media do today? We have seen innumerable instances of inane celebrity news getting the lead story while a massacre or a Boko Haram killing would command a small one corner. It is not because the media does not know what is news – it produces news based on what the public wants, based on our perceptions, determined by our culture and not natural occurrence which constitute an event.
Thus news is today selected and then “constructed”. It is journalists who decide what is newsworthy and how it needs to be presented – the audio, image, timing – everything is planned like a movie script. Journalists who were supposed to present news, are ‘professional story tellers of our age’. And it is this choice of news, the way it is narrated, the use of language which gives us a peek into the biases and interests of the journalist.
Every media form, be it electronic, print or online has a ‘face’ and always, tilts towards an opinion, which may or may not be in favor of what the viewer wants and believes.
Is media relaible, at all? And, if yes, which form of media is the most reliable? The answers to most of the above questions are pretty straightforward: you cannot rely on a single form of media for news.
This age of information technology simply cannot exist without the media. Its role of drawing attention to occurrences around the world is extremely important. We need to take the news given with complete objectivity – treat it just as what it is supposed to be – news. But even while we get any news, the one point which we should keep reminding ourselves time and again is that the news is “produced”; each and every news that we get today is manufactured and fitted into our life based on its relevance.
And while we look at the produced news, it could act as a very powerful mirror of the society that we live in. As news is selected by the news producers based on our perceptions, it is a reflection of our culture – the obsession with Virat Kohli and Anushka or Deepika and Ranveer is what puts them always on the front page. At the same time, hunger still stalks parts of Bihar and UP but we do not want to see this; we know it exists but it does not affect us directly in any way. Thus the quality of news that we see on the front page of newspapers or look at the top trending news on the social media; it gives us a peek into the society that we live in. In fact this mad rush to “break news” and always stay ahead tells us the tale of our times we live in – a rat race that we call life!