A simple kit on: ‘How to spot Fake News’
Chennai, July 12: There is outrage everywhere over the seeming proliferation in fake news. But the fact is fake news are as old as the news industry; news reporters have been for ever making up stuff or inventing ‘quotes’ to produce ‘readable copies’.
For instance, any one who had been at Mohammad Azharuddin’s press conferences during his days as the Indian cricket team captain will tell you that no one, this most certainly included Azharuddin, figured out what he was saying. But sports reporters could not have gone back to the office and said, “I can’t file any news report as I didn’t understand what the Indian captain said”. Instead the sports reporter quietly, but confidently, came up with a 800-worded copy on something that he had no clue about. It is with such stories that journalism is mostly made of.
Closer home, in Tamil Nadu politics, there was G K Moopanar, the Congress (and later TMC) strongman, who had the great ability to answer all questions with the same precise answer: “Gnbnnmmnss mnbbnmnasenmnbs hnfeknmnmnmnmns“. What he said always remained totally unintelligible. Compared to him, Azharuddin, in his enunciation, was Arnab Goswami. But, then again, political correspondents consistently produced reports on Moopanar that would have been news to Moopanar himself.
Ditto with Kamal Haasan’s pressers. He generally uses metaphors to explain metaphors. And we in the news industry are filled with reporters who don’t know what a metaphor is in the first place. Ergo: More made-up news reports.
So, frankly, this hullabaloo over fake news as if they are a new-fangled development is quite baffling to many of us in the industry. But having said all this, in a typical show of journalistic contradiction, this week we have decided to run a simple demo kit on how to spot fake news. We could simply state the elementary fact: “Anything that appears on mainline newspapers is mostly fake”, and walk off. But that would not fill the paper space that this report has to every week. Hence, a full-fledged primer on how to identify fake news:
Consider the source: Here in journalism, the first principle they teach you is: Never trust an unreliable source like NDTV. Okay, this is an obvious cheap shot at a news organisation, which has never appealed to us personally. But we still think that is a pretty sound advice. Because it also incidentally shows you what basically constitutes journalism: Personal biases and vested interests.
Another good example of taking a wrong source seriously is demonetisation. It came from Narendra Modi, but still people took it seriously and went ahead and deposited their old cash in the banks, which of course used the money to hike the salaries of their CEOs and directors while you waited for days outside the ATMs.
Check the author: This is essentially a corollary to the previous principle. We will deal this with practical example. If you come across a tweet that says “the sun rises in the east”, and the tweet is attributed to the fearless journalist Siddharth Varadarajan, you can immediately deduce that the tweet is a total fake. For, if it were the real Varadarajan, the tweet would have read, “the sun rises in the east, and not west, which is where Modi’s Gujarat is located”. Varadarajan cannot possibly send a ‘good morning’ message without dissing Modi.
Read beyond: Headlines are often misleading. They are given only to lure the readers into the story. As it happens, in many cases, the headline will have no real connection with what is contained in the body copy. “Sunny Leone gets all wet and warm” is a headline for a story that discusses the latest weather bulletin. This is how bad the situation is these days. But by this time, after searching here for details of Kamal and Rajini’s political party, you should have figured it out yourselves.
Be smart: As a reader, you must also be clear that there are certain subjects about which there can be no real truths. All stories about them can only be fake. Netaji Subash Chandra Bose, Bhagat Singh, Indian football team’s success are cases in point. There are any number of theories and stories that say Bose 1) Is alive and hiding in, say, Myanmar 2) Died after living for 100 years 3) Committed suicide 4) Died in a submarine and airplane smash. The real truth may be there was never ever a person called Bose.
Bhagat Singh is claimed by both the right wing and left wing. To which party did he really belong? Well,the fact is Bhagat Singh was neither a Sanghi nor a Commie. He belonged to the Aam Admi Party.
Do your own research: Just because some news is published in some site, you don’t have to believe it. If the London terror attack is attributed to IS terrorists you don’t have to take it at face value. As a discerning news consumer, you can check whether the news is true or not. Just call the IS office. They have branches in almost all important capital cities. You may be put on hold, because most of their terrorists are usually busy with some blast or shoot out. But once they are through with that, they will come back and answer your query.
Check the date: Many fake news slip on dates. For instance, if you come across a tweet in which Jawaharlal Nehru had berated Indira Gandhi for imposing Emergency on the country. A simple Google search will tell you that Nehru had died by the time Emergency had been declared and he could not have possibly tweeted against Indira Gandhi. But it is true that, as Ramachandra Guha in his book suggests, Nehru might have had a few nasty comments on her in one of his Facebook posts. But since this was behind the privacy wall, very few had access to it.
Fact-checking sites are around: Many fact-checking sites have come up, and once you log into these sites you will be surprised to find answers to many of your questions, except the one: Who funds these fact-checking sites?
Check your own biases: Just kidding. You will never do this, we know.
Stick to Crank’s News: For, this is the only news outlet that has remained steadfast to its core principle of never letting even an iota of truth slip into any of its reports.