The rise of digital and social media has changed the entire landscape of media, thanks to the people’s enhanced access to internet and smartphones. More importantly, it is their ever increasing penchant to keep themselves abreast of current issues and developments, which has exponentially amplified the scope and craze of online portals and social networking sites. Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have served as viable means of popularising the news that is either printed or broadcast. While enlarging their readership and viewership, these easily available platforms excite and engage the readers. They proliferate the news and views to the targeted and likeminded people, which has both good and bad sides. Social media’s sustainability is largely based on the amount of likes, dislikes and sharing that the published texts, videos and audios generate. This sort of operationality has fuelled stiff competition among them. In a race for becoming hot and viral, the social media is prone to violating basic journalistic norms. As a result, they tend to spread fake, misleading and distorted news and information. This downside of social media is a matter of serious concern.
Now pandemic of disinformation has engulfed the social networking sites. They create false consciousness, with innocent readers and audiences accepting fabricated contents without scrutiny. According to a news report published by this daily, a staggering 95.5 per cent of internet users are exposed to disinformation in Nepal. The Centre for Media Research - Nepal (CMR-Nepal) conducted the Nepal Twitter Users Survey 2019 last November and the findings are based on 542 valid responses. It suggested devising a multi-layered plan to help citizens distinguish disinformation from valid information. YouTube has become a popular site and so are its negative impacts. About 85.6 per cent respondents say they receive a deluge of disinformation from YouTube. “This appears to validate claims that ‘YouTubers’ not only sensationalise the content but also air misguided and fake information to garner views and earn money,” says CMR-Nepal. Facebook and Twitter are also blamed for spreading the false and misleading news.
Another interesting finding is that majority of respondents have placed their trust in newspapers. Around 90 per cent of them rank media as the most trusted institution. Ironically, they believe contents of the newspapers though they are also culpable for spreading distorted news and views to some extent. They have accepted that misinformation has created problem in the society. There is no doubt that both users and social media platforms are responsible for accepting and churning the false news but this points to the urgency of fact-checking initiative to fight the disinformation that poses a threat to democracy and constitutional culture. When the people are fed with mala fide, false and fancied news contents, the people’s judgemental ability is impaired. They can’t correctly comprehend the social and political issues. A barrage of fake news forces the electorates to make wrong choices in the election, giving upper hand to demagogues and rabble-rousers. Therefore, it is imperative to create information-literate citizenry capable of distinguishing between the right and wrong information. Only enlightened citizens can make informed choices and contribute to democratising public institutions and society as a whole.