Imagine waking up one morning, as the first light of the morning washes away the darkness of your room. You, groggy-eyed, performing your daily ritual of taking updates from your mobile. And after you have read a few news bytes and smiled at a couple of memes, you stumble upon a piece of a forwarded message on Whatsapp telling how you died yesterday.
No, you’re not dreaming and the piece of news is not something just a prank from your friend. It is right there. Staring at your face.
That’s what exactly happened with Rahul Upadhyay earlier this year. He was having his morning tea when he got a call telling him he was dead. A friend called him to tell that a message about his death was circulating on Social Media. More amused than worried, he asked his friend to forward that message to him. The next moment he was reading that message. It had his picture with a marigold garland around his neck with a tagline saying…
“One more life lost to Jihadis. Blood for Blood.”
Living in Kasganj, a city in India, with a demography finely balanced between Hindu and Muslim Population — something which disruptors of peace often target — it didn’t take Rahul more than a second to realize the explosion this message can create. An explosion with his name and fame on it.
An explosion which can kill people. And just because of one item of news. Fake News.
Welcome to the world we live in today, a world of fake news.
Fake news is a concept that used to evoke memories of April Fool’s day in our heads. One day in the year when we would expect most surreal of the news landing on the front pages of the major newspapers. The best ones used to be those which, through smart topic selection and a bit of intelligent writing, would make us believe in something which would make us laugh later. Wondering how did we fall for this! And it used to amuse us.
It was just a day of harmless joking.
But now in today’s world where every news is potentially a fake news. Where you can’t tell white from black, truth from fiction. Where Whatsapp Forwarded Messages are picked up by major news channels and televised as Breaking News — without confirming the validity of such news. When the news channel which used to be the shrine of information focus on sensationalism and yellow journalism as their guiding principle. When objective news doesn’t exist, when every news is a breaking news, and when you can’t distinguish between what is fact and what is fiction, all disguised as believable honest news. In such scenario, the Fake News don’t amuse us anymore.
A couple of months back I ran into one of my friends’ from my school days. Neighbours since the day we started school, we had always been together till we passed out from the school and when our different academic aspirations took us to different cities. But as good friends always do, we always found ways to stay in touch.
In Delhi for a business meeting, I called her up and we decided on a lunch the next day.
This had been the longest time (close to two years) since we last met so we both were eager to meet and catch up on the lost times. As I was navigating through the crawling Delhi Traffic I remembered the last time we had met. I remembered she mentioning about professional challenges that were keeping her more than busy. She ran a small HR agency which even after two years of hard work, never really took off. I also remembered she had mentioned something about venturing into an online business. I was eager to know the developments on that front.
At lunch, she told me that she about the online business. She was handling multiple Facebook pages and had developed a thriving business model by monetising the content in those pages. Also, she told me, that she recently launched a Hindi news website which was doing well. As I had the rest of the day free, I agreed when she told me to join her at her new office.
After lunch, I landed in her small office in a nondescript building in the suburbs of the city. In that cramped one-room office, were sitting a bunch of young boys and girls. Their eyes twinkling with the blue lights of the screen. Their goal to curate (or create) Posts for her Facebook pages and the News Website.
Such pages are hit with today’s youth.
Small posts that don’t’ take too much time are idle with the generation that wants everything in small bytes. “Five-hundred thousands of likes,” she said as she showed me a post on one of her pages that shares memes and sarcastic comments.
“But how do you make money?” I asked to which she replied that money can be made through product placements within the content and other similar strategies.
Then I took a look at the news website she was mentioning.
Though I didn’t tell her, I cringed the moment I skimmed through the face news item …
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Also published on Medium.