Editorial | Right-wing lies on social media steroid

The finding of a study conducted by BBC World Service that right-wing groups in India dominate the generation and circulation of fake news is a matter of concern, although it is not news to Indians on social media. Most of these groups belong to the Hindutva brand of politics, and fake news is used as a tool to promote extreme nationalist ideas and in support of parties which profess and practise the Hindutva ideology, mainly the BJP. It is also used to spread hatred against and denigrate some sections of people and to campaign against opposition parties. The BBC used multiple methods to understand the circulation of fake news. It studied 16,000 Twitter profiles and 3,200 Facebook pages, held in-depth interviews and analysed WhatsApp messages shared by 40 respondents. The main platforms for the spread of fake news are Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp. These are available to many millions of people with mobile phone connections even in remote parts of the country.

The study found that right-wing networks are much more organised than those on the left and they drive ‘nationalistic’ fake stories much further and faster than others. Even in the print age, right-wing campaigns had stood out for their planning and organisation. Modern technology, which enables faster dissemination of news and views, has given them an added advantage. Citizens and groups in a democracy should have the right to propagate their ideas, but it becomes dangerous when the right is misused to create false news and to spread it. The study found that a tide of nationalistic sentiment was pushing ordinary citizens to spread fake news because many people thought they have a patriotic duty to do that. Most people do not verify the veracity of stories and, in fact, do not have the means to do so. Many assume that what they receive from friends or known persons is true. 

The study has said that distrust of mainstream media has caused may people to look to alternative sources for news. Whatever the reason, there is a milieu in the country conducive to the spread of fake news, and this is dangerous for democracy and the rule of law. It can be, and is, unfairly used in politics and misused to create social strife and conflict. There are too many examples of social campaigns which spread rumours and have led to attacks on communities. It is used in politics to glorify leaders and to tarnish opponents. Though some regulations have been thought of, it is difficult to see how the spread of fake news, with all its vicious consequences, can be curbed. A new political discourse, based on falsehood, exclusion and hatred, has gained ground. 

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Editorial | Right-wing lies on social media steroid

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