Fake news can take a hike in Kannur, Kerala where district collector Mir Mohammed Ali has been weeding out misinformation with the aid of the youngest members of the society.
“In the sessions, we first try to demystify the fake news ecosystem for the kids. We make them aware of the kind of misinformation present online. We instill in them the quality to always question whatever you read on the Internet and we also specifically teach them how to question. So, if you get a message on WhatsApp which doesn’t have a source, or which cannot be verified, always come forward and ask the question ‘what is the source of this information?’. Put the onus of the truth on the sender so that the person sending you something understand that they better send stuff that is verified and with the source,” says Ali.
Ali’s initiative, Satyamev Jayate, aims to curb the spread of fake news through social media by teaching kids how to identify incorrect information. The campaign began last year to dispel fake news and covered more than 200 schools in Kannur.
The children weren’t just trained to spot fake news they were also taught how to react to it. Ali says, “This programme has reached between 80,000 and 1 lakh kids. All these kids are now conscious of the fact that when they receive information and they forward it and any trouble arises because of that forwarding then they are likely to get into trouble because of this. We’ve also shown them examples of cases where people had forwarded unverified information and were later arrested because of it. In many cases, we have spoken to parents as well who have told us that children have become from these sessions and talked to them about it.”
Ali conceptualised the campaign in October 2017 after fake news fuelled a lobby against a vaccine.
“In the year 2007, we were starting the Measles Rubella vaccination campaigns in Kannur. We had to vaccinate around 5 lakh kids and during this campaign we realised that parents were coming up with all sorts of excuses not to get their kids vaccinated. When we started digging deeper, we found out that a lot of these parents were receiving a lot of fake news in terms of anti-vaccination propaganda. They were being fed information that their children would not be able to have kids, that they would get the disease anyway, that vaccination could make them sicker than they are right now. Interestingly, the kids were receiving all this information from parents and refusing vaccination at school so, at that point, when we started interacting with the kids we decided that it was high time that we start a campaign in which we train children how to identify and counter misinformation online,” he says.
Through these workshops and initiatives, Mir hopes Kannur transforms into a fake news-free zone.