Think of all the times your mother has come up to you and shared some rather outrageous “details” about the neighbour’s kid.
Go back and remember just how many times your father called you about a magical remedy that “really works”, simply because someone forwarded a text to him.
And what about all the heated political discourses in your living room that started simply because someone saw something on TV or the internet?
All these instances go to show that people want to keep themselves updated and informed about the world around them. But hardly anyone takes that extra step to check their “facts.” That’s alarming! Isn’t it?
After all, who has time to waste on matters that don’t affect them personally? And anyway, aren’t we societally conditioned to take everything with a pinch of salt?
So, is fact-checking really that important?
The answer is an astounding yes!
Fact-checking news is now more important than ever before for more reasons than one. And that’s exactly what we want to talk about today.
What Makes Fact-Checking Of News More Important In The Current Times?
When we were growing up, we saw our parents get their news from sources like the newspaper, TV, or radio. But today, we all get notifications on our phones from the leading news platforms, social media, public forums, and what have you!
Information is literally at our fingertips, which is why, sometimes, we don’t even stop to think about how it’s been vetted. Or even, whether it is relevant at all!
But here are a few reasons WHY fact-checking of news has become increasingly more important than ever before…
#1. Factual Accuracy Is Non-Negotiable
We all rely on the news to get updates about the world, which, in turn, influences our political, social, and even personal beliefs. This means that if you become a victim of fake news, you will be thoroughly misinformed and out of touch with reality. And when the premise itself is flawed, the outcomes are likely to be negative too.
Plus, it is very easy to morph images and videos into something entirely fake. But the masses will still perceive it as true.
And this has been happening all too often for a few years now. Be it politics or social issues, business or entertainment — there seem to be all too many unverified claims and tales doing the rounds without any real validation. What’s worse is that people seem to fall for them blindly, without even an iota of fact-checking or disbelief.
For instance, when COVID-19 had just hit, forwards about home remedies and traditional medicine made the rounds on everyone’s phone. Yet, as per this survey, 50% of people did not even fact-check these “recommendations” before passing them on. Yikes!
The same goes for rumours of nanochips inside the new currency notes of the Rs 2000 denomination that was rolled out by the Narendra Modi government only a few years ago.
#2. Social Media Exacerbates Spread Of Fake News
Nowadays, everyone has accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., and they are more often than not synced to their handheld devices. In fact, the younger generation prefers to get their news from these platforms rather than the regular media because of how quick and convenient these internet-driven platforms are.
Plus, they are free!
But that is exactly why it’s even more convenient to share and spread fake news and misinformation faster than was possible before. Although over 400 million people in India use the internet, digital illiteracy is widespread. People will continue to take things at face value, especially if they align with their beliefs and mindset, making them more vulnerable to suggestions and more intolerant towards others’ beliefs.
That leads to further conflict, breeding even more intolerance towards their fellowmen. This vicious cycle will continue unless checked and rectified with the REAL THING, i.e., verified and honest real coverage.
#3. Misinformation Can Be Deadly
Spreading fake news online doesn’t just impact the politics of a country; it can have far-reaching consequences. It can even cost someone innocent their life! Don’t just take our word for it. As per an analysis, more than 30 people have been killed since January 2017 just because of rumours that were spread via chatting apps.
Besides, even if the outcome isn’t always so serious, that doesn’t mean misinformation isn’t sowing disharmony in communities everywhere.
How To Check If A ‘News’ Item Is Fake?
Now that you understand just how harmful the circulation of fake news can be, you might be looking for resources that can help you verify the authenticity of the claims being made.
Let’s discuss some of the most popular fact-finder websites that are also used by journalists and writers everywhere.
#1. Alt News
Alt News is a non-profit fact-checking website that has been around since 2017 and aims to eliminate the chokehold that misinformation has on our society. You can refer to this website to check political facts, social media rumours, and mainstream media biases.
#2. BOOM Live
This digital platform is committed to providing journalistically verified facts so as to fight the rise of fake news. It is also certified by the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) and partnered with Facebook’s Third-Party Fact-Checking Program in 2018. BOOM is available in numerous languages, including English, Hindi, and Bengali and covers a range of topics — from politics to Bollywood.
#3. The Healthy Indian Project (THIP)
One of the major problems we Indians face is receiving unsolicited medical advice on various social media and chatting apps. So, if your queries are health-related, then THIP is going to be your best bet. This platform works with a host of doctors and other industry experts to curb medical misinformation. Its services are available in several languages as well, including Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, Gujarati, and Nepali.
There’s no denying that fake news can be a powerful tool when a nation’s politics is at stake. That’s why fact-checking news is important to form unbiased and well-rounded opinions. PolitiFact is one of the best in the game. Most viral images, political campaign promises, social media posts, news articles, etc., have been dissected on this platform. Obviously, its slogan of “Stand up for the facts!” has captured tens of millions of people all over the world.
Snopes has been a key player in the industry since 1994; it is the oldest and the largest fact-checking website. Besides being a useful tool for debunking political scams, its team also addresses popular social media rumours, celebrity stories, and general misinformation on the internet.
Is There Any Future For News Media As A Valid Source Of Information?
Some might think that the future of newsrooms and digital platforms is bleak, all thanks to how rife misinformation is in today’s world. Moreover, one cannot deny that fact-checking is a time-consuming and labour-intensive process; it cannot always catch up with how quickly fake news spreads.
So, what does that mean for the future of real news?
For starters, there should be some kind of regulatory body that can and will hold social media companies liable to some extent for the spread of misinformation on their platforms. This could, in turn, ensure that social media companies are more proactive in coming up with self-regulatory steps to keep miscreants at bay.
We are in no way saying that people's thoughts, opinions, and views should be censored. However, there can be new systems that are specifically designed to catch misinformation and fake news on these apps.
Lawmakers can also push for stricter fake news laws that can hold perpetrators accountable and penalise them for violations, at least as misdemeanours. Although there are laws for inciting violence in this country, there is a need to stop the spark before it can spread into a wildfire.
Apart from these, we also need to focus on programs that promote digital literacy.
One might think that only people from rural areas conduct themselves poorly online. But that’s not true at all. Improper fact-checking of news is an issue in urban communities as well. People, in general, are more gullible to accept something that agrees with their mindset as true without bothering to verify them.
And much like charity, change also begins at home.
The onus is also upon us, as individuals, to ascertain that we aren’t falling prey to propaganda, deep fakes, or misinformation. And we can do that by developing better critical thinking skills and also holding our loved ones accountable for the same.
So, the next time you decide to share or forward something about someone on your messaging apps or social media apps, think, check, and then forward. Sometimes, honest things may not really be relevant to people’s lives except to create panic or unfounded rumours. Sometimes, they could harm the recipient or others by means of defamation.
Be responsible and considerate while sharing anything on social media. Don’t blindly send information that you think is real and/or relevant. Don’t trigger a rift or promote intolerance.
Today, we are much closer to each other as a society. But the level of intolerance has, unfortunately, increased manifold, owing to misinformation and misconceptions. As a society, it’s time we did better.
Ultimately, one cannot ignore that the digital medium and fake news go hand in hand. But that also means that as one evolves, so will the other. So, the future of news is something that cannot be set in stone.
Nonetheless, we think that change is a-coming. Let’s hope that this is just a phase and that, in the end, real news will be here to stay.