With the explosive growth of the fake news in India in last few years, a study conducted by BBC found that the rising tide of nationalism is the driving force behind the spread of misinformation. Basic fact-checking on social media takes a backseat if the message is propagating ideas of nationalism and nation-building, found the report titled ‘Beyond Fake News’.
The study used multiple methods to understand the circulation of fake news, including the analysis of 16,000 Twitter profiles and 3,200 Facebook pages, in-depth interviews and the analysis of WhatsApp messages shared by 40 respondents across 10 Indian cities. The social media analysis suggested that right-wing networks are much more organised than those who prescribe to the ideology of the left-wing, pushing nationalistic fake stories further.
The study found that nearly 37% of messages sent on WhatsApp were about ‘scams and scares’ related to technology and conspiracies, among other things, while about 30% could be categorised under nationalism, including ‘common man’ stories and cultural preservation.
The study also found an overlap of fake news sources on Twitter and support networks of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The study also offered interesting insights into people’s habit of forwarding messages.
“I trust anything my Mamaji sends, he knows a lot about the world. There are my other uncles who stay in our hometown, I instantly mistrust anything they send. I don’t even open most of their forwards,” a Mumbai girl told the BBC team that conducted the analysis.
“Why would my friend send me a message if it were fake?,” another youth from Vijaywada wondered when asked whether he does the basic fact check.
Widespread sharing of false rumours on WhatsApp has led to a spate of violence in India, with people forwarding on fake messages about child abductors to friends and family out of a sense of duty to protect loved ones and communities. At least 32 people have been killed in the past year in incidents involving rumours spread on social media or messaging apps.