Debunking Misinformation and Webkoof

A panel discussion on how to tackle misinformation and checking of facts

Jaipur, 21 September 2019 – “We need a license to drive on a highway and we need an information license to drive on media” quipped senior journalist H R Ventakesh in the session for “Tackling Misinformation” on the second day of Talk Journalism 2019. The session moved forward with Jency Jacob, Managing Editor of BOOM, a fact-checking website lamenting that the President of USA, Donald Trump lionizing the very term misinformation to go against the mainstream media and the journalists who don’t agree with his brand politics was indeed a convicted way. Talking about India, he added how misinformation and disinformation are considered to be under the same umbrella term of ‘fake news’ and how it is widely prevailed in our country despite having different meanings of both the different words. 

In an attempt to throw more light on the misinformation and fake news mess, Venkatesh popped up with a question to the co-founder of Quintillion Media, Ritu Kapur about the birth of webkoof and how she felt she should take an initiative for webkoof. Kapur explained that the webkoof was also born of a debate inside a newsroom. “The fact that currently, you have an editor of yours to fact verify the news but there also was a time when there were armies of people underground purposely manufacturing misinformation, disinformation and misinformation was enough for me to come up with something as huge as webkoof”. 

The increasing use of social media for knowledge and information sharing has elevated the need for fact verification. Pratik Sinha, the co-founder of Alt News, a fake-news busting website, further differentiated between journalism and fact verification. He further explained how through precisely monitoring about things that go viral on social media, fact verification is executed. “The velocity by which news is spreading these days is phenomenally high and therefore it is quite important for people to understand what they are exactly believing.” 

In continuation of this topic, another question was framed by how deliberate disinformation can also include malicious content. Quipped Sinha, “New parodies or satire may also become misinformation if it is taken as serious by the unwary and spread as if it were true was brought forward in order to bring into picture the damage caused by believing in fake news”. He was also descriptive about how disinformation is pushed in an extremely organized way for people to get easily connected and believe in it blindly without any certain fact verification. “Priority is given when misinformation is brought forward by any social influencer or any politician or a journalist because it is obvious that it will be read by a huge number of people”. Sinha also explained that very common usage of misinformation is “defamation of individuals” when one person becomes the story of the day and there is invariably incorrect information extended about an individual. He later elaborated how anticipations are made in cases like Pulwama attack and Kashmir when they are already on their toes for fact verification because “these are the times when it is obvious for people to make a concerted attempt to bring misinformation in an attempt to flame an outrage in citizens”.

Jacob portrayed how misinformation is common on popular apps like Hello, Sharechat, and WhatsApp. In the context of it, he introduced the working process of BOOMLive, regarding how it is more of a participative process of fact verification and how the helpline number is used by a number of people. To his matter of concern is the seamless flow of how misinformation is jumping from one platform to another.

To change the flow of misinformation in one specific direction, Kapur mentioned that during the time of her fact verification session, she came across a very interesting fact that the velocity of health-related misinformation is much higher than any other misinformation. She spoke about how it is equally important to spread awareness regarding how people can be able to spot fake news at their end. “The adverse effects of hyperlocal fake news is far more damaging because by the time it reaches the national media, it had already made spaces in thousands of minds”.

“Don’t you think the changing information horizon and shifting information behavior patterns have implications for information literacy? Spreading awareness among the most active users of social media that is the college students is of considerate importance” mentioned Kapur. 

Ventakesh finally concluded by encouraging the audience to definitely verify facts from their end whenever they come across any sort of information. “The considerate attempt by a single citizen to bring in the picture about any misinformation will be an attempt to aware thousands of people and will stop them to blindly believe”.

Text: Priya Yadav | Copy Edit: Rupali Soni | Photo Desk: Sagar Samuel | Editorial Corodination: Rupali Soni & Niharika Raina