Blame it on social media and its misuse: we are living in a disinformation age, where weapons of mass manipulation are in the hands of the government, anonymous vested interest groups and even rogue private individuals. Today the citizen — linked through platforms like Whatsapp, Twitter, Facebook and what have you — is both a consumer as well as disseminator of malicious news and content.
And to this fast-growing fake-news and hate machine factory add TikTok, the video-uploading app launched in India last year which allows users to upload 15-60 second videos. The latest issue of Wired UK, a bi-monthly publication that reports on the impact of science and technology, reveals how the app is being used to fuel hatred between religions and castes in India. In fact, documents accessed by the magazine reveal that between November 31, 2018 and April 19, 2019, TikTok had to remove as many as 36,365 videos for breaching rules of hate speech and religion.
Another 12,309 clips were deleted as they promoted dangerous behaviour and violence. Interestingly, pornographic content removed was reportedly 20 times less than the videos that spread hatred and violence. However, only 1.01 per cent of the 6,77,544 accounts reported to moderators were eventually banned. With an estimated 200 million-plus subscribers, TikTok sees India as one of the markets where it could pose a serious challenge to Facebook, which currently has 300 million members here.
But TikTok only represents another facet of the larger malaise that plagues the digital age — dissemination of malicious content and fake news. It is a problem which must be addressed on a war footing, not through blanket bans and iron-fisted censorship, but by making the public aware that much of what they read or see on social media may be fake news or the work of individuals promoting their biases, deviant behaviour and anti-social outrage. Any fight against dubious and dangerous content must be a sustained awareness campaign, with the whole-hearted backing of the government. Mere tokenism will not do. Identifying the “real truth” and separating it from suspect information is a challenge that goes beyond journalists and newsrooms, because news dissemination is no longer the sole preserve of the media.
Preeti Mehra Editorial Consultant