A lack of trust in the mainstream media has led to dissemination of a large amount of false digital information on social networks, but in India it appears things have taken a turn for the worst, according to BBC researchers.
The acute spread of fake news via groups on WhatsApp, one of the most popular chat platforms in India with a database of 200 million users, has unleashed profound violence in the country, with some 30 people killed over the past year after being accused of kidnapping children, writes The Guardian.
WhatsApp is having a hard time ending or controlling disinformation, found the BBC World Service. The practice is linked to growing Hindu nationalism and the dropping price of mobile phone data, as well as strong encryption behind WhatsApp communication. It’s not uncommon for Indians to put more faith in what an acquaintance says, than in the traditional media.
“It is not that people don’t know that there are more credible and less credible sources,” said the researchers cited by The Guardian. “Nor is it the case that they don’t care about consuming incorrect information. It’s that on the digital platforms, while contending with the flood of onrushing information, they simply cannot be bothered.”
Research leader Dr Santanu Chakrabarti says the current Indian prime-minister, known for validating Hindu nationalism, has created the belief that it is their duty to spread the information through the group-messaging app, as they assume it has already been checked and confirmed.
“They are effectively looking for validation of their belief systems,” he said. “On these platforms, then, validation of identity trumps verification of the fact.”