The problem of fake news is being exacerbated by technology, which enables wrong information spread like wildfire.
There is no doubt that the internet has changed the way that humans use and consume information, and as prices for data access came down dramatically over the past few years there is no doubt that the internet democratised information dissemination. The saying went ‘knowledge is power’ but what the internet has done, thanks to easy access to and cheap availability of information, has been to smash the control of a priestly-class over information perchance knowledge. In doing so, however, the internet has made the space a free-for-all with some disastrous consequences. As such, what is happening today on the internet replicates in a very compressed timeframe what happened after the widespread use of the Gutenberg Press and the advent of the printed word between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries. There was widespread slander, wholesale defamation and vicious libel in the mix which is why information dissemination was, as jurisprudence evolved, made subject to specific laws.
The modern-day versions of those laws still bind newspapers, television channels and digital portals across the world; this is what is called professional media. But the internet is different, because anyone from anywhere, well other than China and North Korea, can access any ‘information’ on anyone, from anywhere. Any claim to authenticity and/or accuracy is largely un-testable. The rigorous editing and news selection standards that a professional media outlet follows do not apply to a blog that publishes gossip. And while there is no doubt that technology has democratised information, for example allowing millions of readers who would never have accessed this newspaper to access it online, it has also made it possible for malicious, deceitful and downright false information to be propagated and unfortunately believed.
The fact is that social media networks have made it worse by enabling the spread of such information. Jack Dorsey, the Chief Executive of social media network Twitter was in India to discuss the problem but ended up washing his hands off it. Technology cannot solve this problem, a problem that technology itself created. The internet fundamentally altered the business model of several news organisations and while finally some news organisations are hitting back with paid subscriptions, the news business model has been forever changed. At the same time, the proliferation of fake news websites selling everything from medical cures to inciting violence is out of control. Controlling that, however, is as difficult as controlling the rapid spread of printed information was 500 years ago. The same laws exist for slander and libel amounting to defamation in India as they did before the explosion of the internet. The legal system has yet to adapt to the speed of the internet but catch up it will. Social media platforms too must accept some amount of responsibility if not liability for their users’ actions. And professional media has to stop giving hate-mongers a platform.
Writer: The Pioneer
Courtesy: The Pioneer