Social Media, Fake News and Polarisation of the Indian Society

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Since its inception in 1983 internet has become part of daily life. Today we can not even think of living a day without internet. Everything we see in our everyday are somehow related to internet. From online studies to buying a smart phone,everything is now-a-days happening on internet.
In the end of 1990s, yet another tool i.e. Social media was invented for one to one as well as one to many communication purposes. These also slowly and steadily became a part of our daily life. Social Media platforms got even more  popularity with the invention of portable computers and especially smartphones. 


Social Media platforms provided a stage where common man didn't remained only viewer/consumer of information but they also became content creator. It provided an open platform where an individual can intract with other individual sitting in any corner of the world. It bridged the gap between a person and his friend and family. This resulted into ease of communication, which is also cheaper in comparison to other methods above all it is instantaneous. 

Social Media also help in building a healthy opinion and understanding about society, religion, nationalism, citizens' Rights, political correctness and scientific temper. 


More than 1.5 Billion people Sign In to Facebook daily, about 6000 messages are tweeted every second on Twitter, the large amount of data transmission make these sites vulnerable as it can be used to propagate any kind of propaganda to a large number of people very easily.
As people not only remained viewers but also they became content creators, Which provided a misplaced sense of control to them.
Now-a-days social media has become battleground for fighting between two or more groups, who generally have varying opinion , thoughts or liking on an issue. It is evident on Twitter, where everyday two or more groups are fighting to prove each  other's point of view. In this process they use every kind weapons, without any thinking of their side-effects on society. They generally use fake texts, images and videos to satisfy their ends.

These Fake News spread much rapidly than any virus or bacteria and infect a very large number of people on daily basis. Which is making people more and more rigid towards a  particular viewpoint, faith, religion or thinking and becoming lesser tolerant towards opposite view points.

These misuses of social Media platforms already resulted into riots, mob lynching, murders and even rapes in recent times. 
Example:- The Palghar incident happened in Maharashtra is one of such incidents in which two Hindu monks were killed because of fake news  about Children's Kidnapper gangs in the region. And the most shameful thing was that this incident was used by many popular media houses to project the incident as an attack on Hinduism and for dividing already divided Indian society.
  • According to latest data released by National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) on Riots, 161 riots were happened in 2017 with on an average 237 victims per day an increase of about 22%. And it has been seen in recent times that most those riots were happened due to social media and fake news.

How Social Media And Fake News Are Polarising Indian Society?

A study conducted by Aalto University, Finland in 2019, on Increasing Polarisation on social Media  found that two factors like User Homophily and Algorithmic filtering have created the cycle enforcing and reinforcing belief systems and ensuring that we don't open our minds to diverse opinions.

User Homophily is defined as the fact that users in a social system tends to associate more  with ones who are similar to them rather than with those who dissimilar. This tendency of human being blocking than to open to diverse opinions and polarise towards a specific belief system.

User Homophily further supported by algorithms based search preferences and as browser cookies further aggravate the issue and people repeatedly see what he likes more an almost everything filtered, which does not match with the viewers choices. And hence people never become aware about what is the opposite viewpoints on hte matter. 

All above results into  a society in which many poles exist such as Congress vs BJP, Male vs Female, Right vs Left, Hindu vs Muslims, Upper Castes vs Lower Castes damaging for any society. And such kind of polarised societies are even more dangerous for democratic nation like India as it attacks on unity among citizens.

Way Forward

  • The best solution of these problems is to educate the people about social media and the it's harms. So, that they can become aware about such kind of hate propaganda and do not fall prey to such divisive policies.
  • Make cyber crime wings of police department more technically equipped and powerful so, that they become able to trace fake news and claims, as early as possible and can be stopped/prevented from spreading to large number of people.
  • To some extent Data Localisation can also solve the problem especially from any kind foreign country sponsored propaganda as recently done by ISI during Delhi Riots 2020 (as per reports of NIA and other investigating agency). But in encrypted world data localisation will not work everywhere as in the case of WhatsApp, whose data is End-to-End Encrypted which can't be tracked or recovered easily or even impossible.
  • We should also strengthen our cyber Laws to face the challenge of modern cyber crimes happening over internet and specially on social media platforms.
  • Although, in democratic India we can not block social Media and restrict the freedom of Opinion, prescribed in the Constitution (Article 19). But we can legally force Social Media Companies to take responsibility of such crimes and remove such contents immediately after published, which is possible to be done.