Fighting “fake news” pandemic

So, we have a Fake News problem across today. Below are a few ideas to combat the issue of Fake News:

1. Technology re-design:

While Facebook or Twitter or WhatsApp or Google cannot be entirely blamed for the Fake News problem, they can definitely help contain the impact and spread rate of these fake news by a few redesign:

  • WhatsApp Forward prompt: Forwarding any media or link or written text is so easy that people spread news without second thoughts. A simple prompt like “Do you want to verify this factually before forwarding all” could make them think twice before hitting that share button. This may not stop the spread, but this could contain ‘reactive’ sharing.
  • |Google| feature on Facebook/WhatsApp/Twitter : In Facebook/Twitter/WhatsApp, embed a “Google” feature that would automatically lead the users to verify the facts in a message by searching the web with that image or first line of the text or the title of a video/audio message. People mostly are lazy to search online for a forwarded message or mail or post. This feature could lead them to a browser that could search and flash the fact-checking sites or the major news results. (This could be similar to highlighting on Kindle Reader and looking up on Dictionary/Wikipedia while reading a book.)
  • Search Engine One-boxing for News checker: Google or Yahoo or DuckDuckGo could start one-boxing fact-checking with both texts and images: ‘Fake or Not’. (One box is that box in which we see quick results like live sports scores or word meanings or flight timings) By referring and one-boxing reliable news sources and fact-checking sites, search engines can help responding to the Frequently Forwarded News. These Frequently Forwarded News can be found with the help of volunteering communities or just by the ‘search strings’ led or landed by WhatsApp or Facebook or Twitter features.
  • Forward tracker : Anonymity most times help rumor mills to get away with transgression of spreading false news. By embedding the identity of the author of a forwarded message in a meta-data format, let message authors sign their accountability as they make video or audio or text messages; let users begin being aware of becoming the source. When people know that they are traceable, they may be much more cautious before spreading unnecessary panic. With eyeballs and public attention could come a behavioral change.
  • Broadcast Alerts on WhatsApp or Facebook: WhatsApp or Facebook or Twitter needs to begin holding demography-specific “Amber Alerts“-like features that Government and Public bodies can use to broadcast clarifications to counter Fake News Spread. To control panic, Broadcast Emergency Response across media beyond News Channels.
  • Forward to Check: WhatsApp or Facebook can make tools to help organizations and Government departments to take up the onus to clarify authenticity of a message or news. As people have begun being proactive in Social Engagement to help each other, Governments and larger bodies need more sophisticated tools and features to connect with citizens or users to filter through massive volume of questions and repeat questions as well. An officer cannot be expected to reply to every query personally, however, the more frequency and provocatively accusatory a query, the more pressing is the need for the department to design a response and contain the Fake News spread. Tech companies need to set up help-centers or announcement coordinators for the less sophisticated Government bodies who are ready to take accountability to their words.
  • De-rank channels on Youtube:  “Report Fake” option could be added on Youtube just like Facebook. If claimed by a large number of users, the recommendation engine should re-calibrate to down-rate the channel and it’s “similar” group of channel clusters that is auto-played or prompted by the Youtube recommendation engine. Also, the “youtube rabbit hole” should be redesigned to avoid the trap of flowing further and further down the click-bait trails. In some cases, the Click-bait titles lead to quick misconception and news spread without. This re-calibration algorithm could be driven by reputation of the ‘reporter’ and the moral-policing claims on profanity of the content be democratically decided by that region than political authority or company policy. To contain potential bias in the report mechanism, users can further be asked to pledge their reputation as they report “fake”.

There are plenty of features built into Facebook and Twitter today to combat these issues of Fake news; however, the major problem in the developing world is with using WhatsApp-like messaging services that serves to spread encrypted panic messages without getting caught on any algorithms or feeds to filter or regulations to curb. Without enough awareness on the Post-Truth world of today, people weigh in their trust on that news message based on the person sharing the message than the original source of that message who can easily be emotionally blinded.

2. Proactive media and responsive departments

  • Print and TV myth-busters: The traditional media needs to actively look out for Fake News including ‘regional messages’ forwarded or discussed often to publicly dismiss false claims. Many media companies have started Instagram stories, etc. to break the Fake News myths. Some like the BBC news even went on to post ‘Quiz‘ on Fake or Not on Instagram to help the younger crowd differentiate between them. Public engagement mods like these can grow the general population aware of the kind of messages they receive and how to categorize such sources.
  • Designate officers/resource to combat Fake News: Every government body needs to begin to equip their Communications divisions to watch out the common viral messages. Every Mayor office or a ‘collector’ office (India) needs to start broadcasting Rebuttals to false claims with evidences and official announcements. Sticking to the ancient paperwork in times of Viral videos is too long a gap. Equipping divisions with a simple Message Broadcasting Service through the Top 2 most Commonly used services in that region could help cut the Fake News’ spreading speed and distance.

We need to start considering these Viral Fake News to be like Pandemic or least an Epidemic. Information is power, but similarly, misinformation is also a kind of power to collapse the peace of a community or even a country. The cost of these Viral messages are now beginning to range from Life to Economies.

3. Education – Awareness – Combatants

  • How-to-verify: Programs and videos on how to check Forwarded Messages and it’s content needs to be circulated. Starting with the basic principle of not to Trust without a valid ‘Source’ or link of proof. Reputation of the Source – this includes whether you are reading from “dummysite.com” or an announcement from an official Government website or a National/Global News site. Above all, if there is no clear evidence or link available to check, people can choose to investigate for more evidence to prove or disprove that message, or simply choose “NOT to Forward” that message and contribute to that spread.
  • Combatant Admin and User in Groups: Smart users or messaging group administrators could act as combatants by refuting those Fake News messages circulating in your groups. They can share links, evidences disproving the claims of the message and request the sender to forward the rebuttal thread to the very person who passed that message. This reverse thread may not go viral, but definitely has a chance of containing further spread.
  • Awareness campaigns: Using arts and other formats, more and more awareness campaigns on not to trust random printed messages on phone immediately needs to be spread in rural and semi-urban regions.

In time and by experience, after a series of terrible experiences, people will begin to adapt and see through these Fake News much better than today. But until that day arrives, it becomes an imperative responsibility for all of us: you, me, tech-companies and government bodies to be proactive in helping the confused to see the Truth and contain the casualties of this pandemic spread by the devious ‘virulent’ Fake News factories.

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