In which trupz talks about lies, rumors, fake news and what you can do about it

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A famous quote goes, “A lie can travel around the world, while the truth is still wearing its shoes!” This quote has such major relevance in today’s time, especially when we have the means to share fake news or (mis)information so easily. If you are one of those people who believe that you never participate in spreading rumors, then you are absolutely wrong. All of us at some point in out lives have done this, may be not intentionally but we have. The fact remains that everyone spreads rumors, now whether it is some sizzling office gossip or a WhatsApp message for a sick child that says if you share the message some company will pay for the treatment, that can be situational!

Have you ever wondered how rumors spread? Rumors have some characteristics, that make them interesting and people get excited about them which why they spread so fast.

2 important characteristics of a rumor

1. A rumor should be informative:

A rumor is usually about something recent that people are interested in. so, if you are able to add more information to what is already true, you’ve just added that desired cherry on the cake.

2. A rumor cannot be verified

This is extremely important, because if the source of the rumor can be verified then point 1 automatically gets nullified. This makes it necessary for whatever (mis)information to have no source to trace it back to.

Now that we have these 2 points clear, lets look at why rumors spread?

4 reasons why rumors spread:

1. Uncertainty:

The explosion of information in the internet age, circular reporting, almost makes it impossible for people to know whether they know everything. Since people find the same information from all the common and well known sources, at times they are intentionally seeking an alternate view which satisfies their uncertainty.

2. Anxiety:

Uncertainty often leads to anxiety. Since we are looking for answers to come to us faster than the speed of light, there is a raging eagerness to know everything right now. People dont have the patience to wait for the right answer, they just need some answer now.

3. Negativity:

Have you ever heard of a positive rumor? A rumor that has been started for the benefit of people? I still haven’t found any such attempt. The intent of widespread of (mis)information or rumors is usually a negative one. They are used for sensationalism, creating a divide with a potential risk of playing with emotional psyche or sentiments of people often religiously motivated these days.

4. Sharing important (mis)information improves social status:

Lets not kid ourselves, we are all vying for those likes, retweets and comments on social media. However, at times we do fail to realize in that bargain of achieving social stardom, you are participating in falsehood of some kind. People do go to extreme length to achieve a social status.

As children, most of us have played the game of “Chinese whispers” and had a good laugh at the end of it. If you have to digest the above points more subtly then let me tell you spreading rumors is nothing different from playing Chinese whispers. Till the time this was all talk it seemed pretty harmless. People would talk behind others peoples backs and everything would seem quiet and hush-hush. The advent of the Internet and social media has now provided a means that now people can read, see and share everything they see and read. The rumor or (mis)information has escalated to the stature of “Fake news” and spreads like wildfire.

5 fake news messages I received on WhatsApp:

1. Indian national anthem declared the best in the world by UNESCO

TRUTH: https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/unesco-india-national-anthem/

2. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared best PM by UNESCO (again)

TRUTH: https://www.hoaxorfact.com/politics/unesco-declared-modi-best-prime-minister.html

3. New notes of Rs. 2000/- have nano chips inside them which will enable tracking them!

TRUTH: https://indianexpress.com/article/technology/tech-news-technology/nope-rs-2000-note-does-not-have-a-gps-nano-chip-inside-it/

4. WhatsApp to start charging you money to send messages

TRUTH: https://faq.whatsapp.com/en/android/28030005/

5. Rare photograph of India Prime Minister as a sweeper

TRUTH: https://www.huffingtonpost.in/2016/01/21/modi-photoshopped_n_9035576.html

These very popular but false WhatsApp forwards satisfy all the criteria that define a rumor as well the reasons why rumors spread. As long as these Chinese whispers were non verifiable it was fine, but the good part about the Internet is that there are now websites which help identify fake news. More mainstream news websites are joining in to contain the situation and inform the people that these are fake news, just Google any of the above 5 and you can see the result for yourself.

In India, in the last couple of years there have been incidents which were incited due to such rumors or fake news. People lost lives. Angry mobs of people took law and order in their hands. This is not good for any city. state or country. Fake news must be contained. People need to educate themselves and those around them. But the question remains, how do you spot fake news? Here is a very helpful infographic by IFLA that teaches some basic fundamentals of how you can verify news as true or fake

Source: https://www.ifla.org/

There are no dedicated sites for India that help identify fake news, so here’s a video by Dhruv Rathee that explains how to spot fake news in India

Few steps you can follow before sharing any message you received on social media

  1. Don’t believe everything on social media, Facebook and WhatsApp will not ask you to forward or share anything
  2. Just Google IT: There is sufficient evidence if the news is true or fake, you can tell mostly from the 1st page results if you search some of the key terms of the message.
  3. Check the source. Is the source creditable? If you have doubts simply don’t share or forward
  4. Is the news helpful or positive? Or will it cause more sensationalism? Is it playing on your emotions? This is upon your logical reasoning where you can decide what you do next
  5. Use social media responsibly: Evelyn Hall has said, “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” It is not necessary for everyone to agree on a subject but it is important for everyone to be tolerant of others opinions, beliefs and sentiments.
  6. Educate yourselves and those around you about spreading, sharing anything without verifying the authenticity.

Do share if you have any more instances when you received fake news on email or WhatsApp in the comments.

Some popular websites that bust fake news worldwide:

  1. Hoax Slayer – https://hoax-slayer.com/
  2. Snopes: https://www.snopes.com/
  3. Hoax Fact: https://www.hoaxorfact.com
  4. Urban Legend: http://urbanlegendsonline.com/