Social media has taken the world by a storm. And thanks to it, journalism today is not the stream of occupation reserved only for the students of journalism. With a mobile phone handy, almost everyone is a journalist. News from even remote parts of the world are at our fingertips or at just the click of a button.
The problem that has come with this expanse of media is that our discretionary powers have gone down. How well do you know the source that provides you the news? Who accounts for the credibility of the news piece that you have just read? How do you decide which news to trust and which not to? The question about the validity of news is what stands as a threat to journalism and public.
“There was a time when being a journalist, a bit like being a judge, meant that you were bestowed a certain responsibility. People believed in you and that trust had to be worn at all times. But news was competition too and so you needed to stay ahead. You did that by getting news early but you were still truthful, or at least a majority felt the need to be so.
Then social media arrived and with Twitter, Facebook and Whatsapp, everyone is a journalist but without the responsibility of being one. And so the onus of sifting between the dignified and the truthful, and the provocative and the untrue, is now no longer with the disseminator of the news but with the receiver. “
How widely is false news being circulated these days? And is the consumer aware of the many possibilities that social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, and mobile messaging applications like WhatsApp and Snapchat play in dissemination of such false news?
A recent example of such a case, was a news piece that was trending on Facebook.
Chennai model Vasanta Paul achieved heroic status with his Facebook post about how he rescued a girl from being gangraped while returning home after watching Rajinikanth’s Kabali.
The post instantly became viral and Paul was hailed as ‘a role model’ for men. But with Paul finding it difficult to narrate the entire incident chronologically to the police, the episode looks like a cooked up one. Police are of the opinion that maybe Paul was inebriated to remember that it probably never happened. Who is to be blamed?
Not long ago, NLU Jodhpur law student Pranita Mehta’s death was vividly shared online as a ‘selfie’ death. News was that the girl slipped and fell to her death while trying to take the “perfect selfie” from the top of a light house. But days later NLU Jodhpur students and alumni condemned the national media over false reporting.
The students clarified that Pranita was swept away by the tide while sitting with her friends. She drowned even as fishermen tried to pull her out of the fast waters. Who can justify the false reportage of the cause of Pranita’s death?
Let’s quickly recollect the Chennai flood episode. One image that was shared and debated about a great deal was that of Prime Minister Narendra Modi peeping outside a look-alike flight window, surveying the Chennai floods.
The image that was tweeted out by the Government agency, Press Information Bureau soon became subject to online mockery with tweets after tweets pointing out the shoddy photoshop done on the image. Though the image was deleted in a jiff, it poses the question of how seriously/ lightly media takes its viewers.
Consumers of media need to keep their minds open. For every question there needs to be a counter question. Now with social media that has given the common man the weapon to broadcast news, it becomes the responsibility of not just media organisations but also the general public to make sure that only ‘authentic news’ and not ‘fake news’ becomes the news of the hour.