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GS-II : Governance

Approaching the misinformation storm

  • 07 October, 2020

  • 5 Min Read

Approaching the misinformation storm

Context:

  • The article discusses the major concerns over the advent of social media platforms as information and news dispersion media and suggests certain measures to counter these shortcomings.

Impacts on the advent of internet:

  • The advent of the Internet has led to the creation of big tech companies based on the social media platform business models.
  • The number of people on these platforms has increased exponentially.
  • The increasing availability of affordable internet services has led to a situation where anywhere between 500 million and 700 million people are now newly online in India, almost all from towns and rural areas.
  • Of late, there has been a growing call to hold the tech firms accountable for their actions. These firms have been struggling to meet calls to contain the online spread of misinformation and hate speech online and are also being accused of suppressing both left-wing and right-wing views.

Issues:

1. Biased ‘news’:

  • Most of the information available to the people have been through the social networks such as Facebook, WhatsApp, and Twitter where there are no journalistic norms and anyone can say anything at any time about any topic with scant respect for the truth.
  • Everything is an opinion, but not clearly labelled as such. As a result, much of the ‘news’ available on these platforms is biased.

2. Echo chamber algorithms:

  • The echo chamber effect has been greatly enhanced by the highly targeted algorithms that the social media companies use. The algorithms with an aim to make users stay online longer are likely to bombard users with information that serves to reinforce what the algorithm thinks the searcher needs to know.
  • The fact that the social media platforms target advertising and hyper-personalisation of content makes them further suspect as arbiters of balanced news.

3. The threat of false news:

  • The advent of the Internet was expected to lead to democratic access to a large variety of news from all corners of the globe.
  • Though it has been able to ensure greater access to information, it has also exposed the people to false news/information which can transmit very fast across society with detrimental impacts.
  • Most people now get their news from dubious Internet sources.
  • The spread of false and malicious news can stoke violence at short notice.

4. Impending global threat:

  • The US experience has shown the potential of misinformation/biased information on society. There has been a growing polarization in the U.S.
  • This might be an indication of the impending creation of an unmanageable fifth estate in the form of Big Tech.

Way forward:

Learning from the U.S.’s experience with the Internet, India should brace itself for the impending Internet misinformation storm through the following measures:

1. Regulation:

  • India might need to consider regulating social media firms through appropriate new legislations.
  • Indian legislation needs to preserve free speech while still applying pressure on the platforms to make sure that Internet content is filtered for accuracy and decency.

2. Corporate responsibility principle:

  • There is a need to hold the firms accountable for their actions based on the principle of corporate responsibility.

3. User’s role:

  • The users too have to play an equally important role in this regard. Those who use social media platforms must also ensure that they maintain access to a range of sources and views.

Source: TH

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