Monday, 24 January, 2022

Dealing With Digital Disinformation

Dealing With Digital Disinformation

Namrata Sharma

There is a general correlation between online media and a fast track vehicle. In the quest to upload news as soon as possible, the online dailies are like a fast track vehicle where people are rushing even inside the running vehicle. “The online media has only become a medium where news is given in a rush. It is yet to become effective in verifying facts and presenting important public interest issues,” says Shiva Gaule, editor

Accurate, reliable and timely information is vital for the effective decision-making by individuals, communities, organisations and governments. Rushed and planted information in the digital age can misinform people to take wrong decisions during voting or while consuming products. In this age, enormous amount of data is generated every second, which is accessed by the mass population globally. Therefore, it is very important for online media portals to verify facts, track the sources where they come from in order to identify hidden agendas that misinform the people and edit what goes.

Fake news
To be in the endless rush to put out information is not journalism! Information is a source of influence and power. The authoritarian regimes control information to curtail the freedom of expression and right to information. However, in the digital age of today, even in the democratic, open-enlightened societies there are individuals in the gambit of democracy who try to use the mass media to swing votes and foster corrupt ideas and policies for their individual interests rather than for the interest of the mass population. In the USA during the Trump-era and in India during the Modi regime, the digital media has been inundated with fake news.

When one observes the flow of news and information on the digital mass media these days, the flow of data is massive. According to H-11 Digital Forensics, every day 310 billion emails are sent. In 2020, people created 1.7 MB of data every second, in 2020 users sent around 500,000 tweets per day in 2021, 68 per cent of Instagram users view photos from brands, 70 per cent of the globe’s GDP will have undergone digitisation by 2022 and by 2025, 200+ zettabytes of data will be in cloud storage around the globe. H-11 digital Forensics is a US based company working on digital forensic technology. With the world moving on in a mass digitalization process, sciences of cyber security, information protection, eDiscovery and digital forensic investigation is the demand of the day.

The data mentioned above and its impact on not only the GDP but on every aspect of human lives is indeed massive. The urge to be the first to post breaking news has pushed the mass media in spreading misinformation and disinformation both knowingly and unknowingly. Several young reporters shared with me that to be the first to put out the information many just type and upload without even checking the typed text. When I asked what happens if there are grammatical mistakes or other blunders, the quick answer was “oh it is corrected after posting, so even if mistakes go out they will be the first to break the news.”

Well so much for one of the oldest and most respected principles of journalism – be patient in collecting news and make sure it is factual truth that needs to be given to the public after verifying and correcting every aspect of the news so what the readers, listeners or viewers get are correct in all the forms! During a recent interaction with the youth desk editors of the mainstream media organised by the Centre for Investigative Journalism (CIJ) Nepal, I sensed the novel concept of journalism in the youth editors where, in the rush to upload digital news, they were vulnerable to misinformation, disinformation and fake news.

The desk editors said that they were under a lot of stress to upload news as fast as they can. On the other hand, the reporters are equally in hurry and the so-called pressure to upload what they get as soon as they can text it. Many a time, news is given from a far distant source via mobile phone which the reporters text what they hear on whatever device they have and click the send button. Then, if there are any typos or factual mistakes, they correct them digitally after responses start coming. The verification, editing, proof reading and polishing that journalists do seem to be omitted by the fast track journalism of today.

Changing methodology
With the advancement of the digital media, the principles and methodology of hard core journalism seems to be changing. With almost all the people having access to digital devices and the ability to type and post, a lot of citizen journalists and planted individuals have emerged who post information on the digital platforms as and when they see fit. The youth desk editors are mostly exempt from capacity building and training on sound principles of journalism. It is important for media houses to spend resources on journalists as soon as they hire them to ensure that they produce credible journalism and disseminate correct information, not mis/disinformation.

The online media in Nepal is growing. It is important to remember that journalism has always been a profession filled with pressure whether it was during the Watergate scandal or today’s COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, the excuse of “being in a rush to upload” without fact-checking and omitting issues important to the well-being of the people is not correct. The youth journalists need to rethink why they are in this profession. The media houses need to give space and invest in producing factual and honest journalism to prevent disinformation, misinformation and fake news which could lead democracies towards autocracies.

(Namrata Sharma is a journalist and women rights activist Twitter handle: @NamrataSharmaP)