This is a new war against which the world is rallying. Unlike the last time that the countries of the world united against a common foe in the Second World War, this war is not being fought in Normandy or El Alamein or even Iwo Jima. This war is being fought in the cyber world on a daily basis and the enemy is Fake News.
The Russian parliament is preparing legislation to bring down fake news. India has asked social media companies to take steps to curb their platforms from being used to spread fake news. Kenya, Malaysia and Germany have already made laws to punish those creating and spreading fake news and Singapore, Philippines and France are in the process of doing so.
Fake news is being used as a tool to bring about social unrest all over the world. Even a small rumour can tear apart communities, brotherhood and create law and order disruptions. Social media becomes an aggregator of even a small rumour or fake news and ends up taking lives. Fake news is a big problem in countries like Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Mexico and others.
Fake news was used by vested interests in the 2016 US Presidential elections and the American security agencies pointed accusatory fingers are Russia for being behind this. Now, Russia is so beset with fake news that it is going to bring in legislation to curb social media. The legislation introduced in parliament seeks to hold the social media platform responsible for any user spreading the fake news through their platform. These social media platforms see more than 1,00,000 visitors daily. If the law comes through it will be incumbent upon the social media company to pay a fine of five crore roubles if they do not take down any comment on their site which is objectionable and against which someone has complained. The time given for taking down the objectionable comments is 24 hours. They will also have to open local offices in Russia for better coordination with security agencies.
If you are in Kenya and are accused of spreading the fake news on social media, be prepared to pay a fine of US $ 50,000 and spend two years in jail. Social activists are opposing this law on the grounds that it is a violation of their freedom of expression.
Mexico saw presidential elections on 1 July 2018. In the run-up to the elections, about 150 people were killed. To prevent any increase in violence and its impact on the outcome of the elections, news media group Al Jazeera came up with a unique plan. They got together with 90 organisations which included publishers, media groups, NGOs, universities and created a platform called Verificado. They also included Facebook and Google in their plan. Verificado used artificial intelligence to create a search tool. This search tool was able to alert users to whether a particular news was correct or fake.
Nigeria saw a lot of communal tension owing to fake photographs circulating on social media. Recent times have seen clashes between Muslim animal herders and Christian farmers in which more than 200 people lost their lives. The fake pictures showed gory images of alleged torture and killings. These images went viral via Twitter. As tensions mounted an atmosphere of terror prevailed. The truth, however, was that the pictures were from an incident of domestic violence that took place in 2011. Another picture claiming to be of a killing of over a dozen people turned out to be that of a road accident from the Dominican Republic. Even the office of the president was not spared - a fake twitter account in the name of the president was used to further cause social unrest.
Illiteracy, lack of communication between the people and the government and cheap smartphones make for a deadly cocktail that is afflicting the societies in Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Mexico and other countries with similar social situations. India too is in a similar situation. In all these countries, a large proportion of the populations are using social media. In Nigeria, 2.6 crore of the 18.6 population is active on social media. Illiteracy combined with so many cultural, religious, political and regional differences create a fertile ground for rumours to grow. And smartphones and social media become the perfect tools for spreading this unrest.