Time to shut down fake news factory

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Hyderabad: Even as Covid-19 warriors are working round the clock to fight the unrelenting pandemic, there is another section too that is working overtime – the Fake News Factory.

From spreading disinformation and getting others to spread misinformation, fake newsmakers have been working hard during the pandemic to do whatever damage possible, for reasons known best to them. Many from among the public have been victims to their designs and unknowingly spread false stories as well.

The situation in the city saw some sharing videos of doctors protesting in Bengaluru, saying it was from Hyderabad, and some sharing posts last week saying that the Chief Minister had issued new curfew timings, with shops to be open from 9 am to 6 pm only. While the latter saw the Telangana State Police responding immediately and sharing that the post was fake, there were several other instances, where some have shared fake messages in residents’ association WhatsApp groups, saying there were Covid-19 positive people in their apartment who should be quarantined or shifted to hospitals.

There were also instances when fake messages on the health condition of the Chief Minister, Ministers and the Deputy Mayor of Hyderabad too were shared by mischief mongers, who are now facing legal proceedings initiated by the police.

The sudden spike in instances of fake news, wrong and manipulated statistics and false allegations has led law enforcement agencies, not just in Hyderabad, but across the world as well to initiate a campaign against fake news, asking people not just to break the chain of the coronavirus but also of fake news.

In fact, according to a recent research report by noted cyber security solutions provider TrendMicro, fake news and cyber propaganda tools were gaining popularity of late. These tools were used to ‘advertise or push a certain message or agenda’, with large-scale social media manipulations readily available in the cyber underground market, the Dark Web and similar illegal meeting points of cyber crooks. Fake comments, bogus social media likes, post boosting were being sold at low prices. For instance, 1,000 Instagram likes were being sold for 15 cents, it said.

The Europol, in its Break the Fake News Chain initiative, has issued an advisory detailing how to tackle fake news. It says that spreading misinformation often starts from individuals, such as criminals, after some sort of profit; from opportunists looking to discredit official sources, and all these gaining traction if the public share it through social media.

Tips from Europol

  • Unless information comes directly from an official source, take it with a grain of salt
  • Be mindful – fake news will often tell you what you want to hear with clickbait headlines
  • Is the website trustworthy? Check its ‘about us’ page, mission and contact info
  • Check the sources – is any other news source reporting on the same thing? How many sources does the story quote?
  • Photo search – is the news you are reading accompanied by a photo that strikes you as out of context? Run an online search, it might be your clue towards figuring out that this is an example of misinformation
  • Check publication date of the article and if the timeline it refers to makes sense.
  • If you come across fake information, do not engage with it. Do not comment and share further.
  • If it was shared on social media, report the post to the platform
  • If you know the person who shared the fake news, send them a private message and tell them the information they posted is likely false
  • Share updates only from trustworthy, official websites that report on Covid-19

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