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India - Deadly Fake News

Aktualisiert: 16. Aug. 2018

“It’s a safe area, the only thing that is troubling us at the moment is the series of child kidnapping. There are gangs roaming around the neighborhood abducting young children” says our Airbnb host in Kochi, Kerala, while handing me a Mangolassi."

Marari Beach in Pre - Monsoon

I’m not surprised by the news, because just a few hours earlier I read an article on this topic on the plane.

According to the newspaper’s report, fake news have circulated in various parts of India via WhatsApp regarding ominous gangs abducting children in the villages. Such a case of misleading information has led to the suspicion of an innocent street beggar in northeastern India. He was hanged through an act of vigilantism by an angry mob. And now, a few hours later, I’m sitting in what feels like right in the middle of the news, as our host tells us she got the information on the kidnapping series through a social media platform.

The south of India is more developed than the north. 90% of the people in the south are literate. Kerala also has the "Pink Police”, a recently launched police unit dedicated exclusively to the safety of women. With these hopeful advances it’s all the more astonishing that our hosts are convinced of the accuracy of the message:

"It must be true. I saw this Video on Facebook.” My superhost shows me a video post on a Facebook profile. In the video a voice-over by a young man speaks about the kidnapping series. Photos of truck containers and children's corpses are being shown. Although people and organ trafficking as well as child abduction are definitely a real problem, the pictures could have been from anywhere in the world. The report was neither well founded nor journalistic. Just a Facebook post from some kid.

The smartphones in India are dirt cheap and the sim cards are free. Even in the slums in Mumbai I saw young people sitting on the roadside, surfing the net. Old world meets modern technology. Some may not properly classify the information. Or may not question the sources or the reading critically. But how is it with me? Do I read critically enough? Are my sources neutral?

Skyline of Mumbai

No one in my environment would consider Facebook, Instagram, etc., a serious source of news, yet there is a lot of political discussion going on about these platforms. And I often feel that most people are more concerned with spreading their opinion than trying to understand the world in its complexity. Rarely does anyone want to understand the context and find out what the core of a problem really is. Often merely the title of a post is being read and in comes the self-proclaimed expert sharing his superficial knowledge.

I try to read several online newspapers to hopefully get a realistic picture of a situation. It may also be worth getting a paid subscription from a credible newspaper.

Especially these days, when almost everywhere in Europe an uncanny right tendency is creeping around the corner, we need trustworthy sources of information. Independent papers that provide us with well-researched articles that illuminate a topic from all possible angles and depict correlations without being polemical. We might need a stronger response to the digital revolution in our schools by addressing the use of digital media and adding new subjects such as "critical reading" to the classroom.

The better my information, the better decisions I can make. The less I’m prone to fear-driven irrational thinking. The more empathetic I can be. The better I can read the agenda of politicians and others between the lines.

“Everyone has the right to their own opinion, but not the right to their own facts.“ (most likely from Daniel P. Moynihan)

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