by June 25, 2018 0 comments

FAKE NEWS AND ITS IMPACT ON TECHNOLOGYEven though the world we live in is becoming increasingly reliant on technological tools, many are yet to accept their tech-friends because of concerns about privacy. But it’s about time we realised that we are still in control — probably more than ever, writes AMRITA BHINDER

Look around and you’d notice that irrespective of any news being fake or not, the scare that the prospect generates is often quite real, and so is the collateral damage that it extracts.Traversing the information highway in this day and age, fake news can not only end up hurting technology but also threaten the greater role of artificial intelligence (AI), something that is being looked at with great hope to help curb the fake news menace.

Gone are the days when you needed to be a global player to impact the highest number of people in the shortest period of time. Today, if any online content, especially a news item, hits a chord, it will be shared, liked, retweeted and posted across any number of different platforms in a blink of an eye. Now, if any disinformation ends up being widely shared the chances of it swaying the public opinion increase manifold and thus, it achieves its objective — be it to defame, sow discord or profiteering. In the meantime, the lack of authenticity or even a simple fact check is made up by a shrug akin to the time when you got the name of the wine you were sipping wrong.

Amongst other things,the strongest impact that fake news has on our minds is what the experts term a ‘confirmation bias’, which is ‘information’ that simply confirms our preconceptions. It becomes potent when combined with a ‘clustering illusion’ that makes us see patterns in random events, and together they are spelling doom for us. You’d wonder what that has got to do with the changing the way we look at the world around us. But this is the golden age for the adage that is usually wrongly attributed to Mark Twain and Winston Churchill amongst others — “A lie gets halfway around the world before truth has a chance to get its pants on.” Take the latest salvo in the fake news war — it has been reported that the Karnataka Congress MLA Shivaram Hebbar himself has called the audio clip released by his own party to allege that the BJP offered money and a ministerial berth to him for cross-voting during the floor test in the assembly, “fake.”But by the time he did say that, opinions had already been formed, thanks to confirmation bias. Such a clustering illusion gains more ground when scores of people feel unsure as to whether or not what they the media has shown is true. In fact, in a recent survey conducted by Edelman Trust Barometer in the US, it was discovered that  nearly seven in ten people worry about fake news being used as a weapon.

When coupled with a post  from ‘Cambridge Analytica’, an exposé on Facebook and Twitter selling user data makes the general public aware that their data is important and can be misused. But, the manner in which they choose to cope with the new-age disinformation era becomes a hurdle in recognising one’s own biases in a wider bias. People swing from one extreme to the other when it comes to technology. Believing that their own ‘data’ could be used to shape their  opinion about political campaigns, choice of products and their ideology, many start to treat social media as the big, bad wolf. They either grow completely distrustful of it or think of it as the best thing that ever happened to humanity. The shift from fake news to a concern of data theft to shunning technology altogether, can take over people’s actions and seem almost natural to them, without them even realising.

If someone is even slightly technologically challenged, their imagination runs amok, they grudge most technological initiatives and any talks around it. This attitude extracts a colossal collateral damage in a country like India where the use of technology in initiatives such as Aadhaar, the world’s largest biometric ID system that is a tool to safeguard identity as well as ensure certain benefits through direct-bank-transfers such as LPG and other subsidies or timely pension payouts amongst others is suffering due to an apprehension to technology. World Bank Chief Economist Paul Romer described Aadhaar as “the most sophisticated ID programme in the world” and has recommended it to be model for other nations. In a world where biometric authentication is fast becoming a major tool to defend citizens, many are still averse to the concept. But, the fact is that technology-based tools such as Aadhaar or intuitive voice-driven assistants like Alexa or Siri which can be used for ordering groceries, booking a cab, setting mood-appropriate music or getting a book suggestion, are the new reality and are here to stay.

Any pitch artificial intelligence is seen at the cost of freewill and freedom of expression. But, is it really? To put it plainly, these changes are now a part of our existence and no level of scaremongering or handholding can change it. No more can people say that they know something because they read it in a newspaper, or a book or saw it on the television. We will have to hone our own analytical skills as the luxury of relying on the published material is not there anymore. Social media only fuels the sentiment echoed in a classic Faiz Ahmed Faiz poem which says: Bol, ke lab azaad hai tere (Speak, for your lips are free). We need ‘free speech’. Nothing is error proof and no statement can be taken as the gospel truth. No matter what algorithm any A.I. uses to counter fake news, it can never pick up the nuances of language. Therefore, it’s not error proof. In the end, isn’t it all about letting people make their own choices? What can be a better time than now for people to display confidence in their analytical skills and make their own judgment? Because finally, we have a level playing field.

The writer is a lawyer and the State spokesperson for BJYM, Chandigarh. Views expressed are personal


Courtesy: The Pioneer

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