‘A herd of giraffes is walking majestically to the diving board. One by one the giraffes pull off acrobatic dive into the swimming pool.’ An awesome video going viral on social media with the claim that it is a real show in Australia! However, it is not a real show, but computer graphics, an award winning animated video. Sample this widely shared photograph of an elephant carrying a lion cub with its trunk and a lioness walking by the side .The picture goes with the back-story of the elephant coming to the rescue of the cub in harsh Sahara desert. Fantastic! Animals forgetting animosity in the times of adversity! However, the photo is not real, but a doctored image.
Tall claims, fake videos and photos, but absolutely harmless! However, there are many manipulated stories, videos and pictures being forwarded on WhatsApp and circulated on social media platforms that can be dangerous. There have been instances when fake forwards, rumours and hate rhetoric led to riots and mob lynchings. The problem is if a post suits our ideology, we want to believe it, won’t think twice before pressing the forward button.
In fact, there is an industry backed by political parties churning out fake messages. Political parties create and spread messages to suit their agenda, to influence people and sway elections. A 2019 MIT study states that one out of eight images shared in political groups in India can be termed as misinformation The fact is history is distorted, facts are twisted, stories are planted, news is manipulated, pictures are morphed and images are used out of context for furthering political agenda. Many quotes credited to Chankya, ancient India’s master-strategist and adviser to Chandra Gupta Maurya, on social media are not his. A viral quote on the impact of Coronavirus on Indian economy is being falsely attributed to Ratan Tata, “2020 is the year to survive, not to make profits….” Ratan Tata had to take to twitter to deny.
Sometimes one can understand agenda behind a post, but is baffling why poets and writers have become targets of fake forwards. Many second rate poems, nowhere near the work of Gulzar are being attributed to the veteran poet. He has written ‘Adetein bhi Ajeeb hoti hain’ but Gulzar says he would certainly not write ‘Aurtein bhi Ajeeb hoti hain’ which has gone viral under his name. Recently the celebrated Punjabi poet Amrita Pritam, too, became a target of her fakes going viral. The poems which are too simplistic to fit into oeuvre of Amrita Pritam, neither having her diction nor her vision, are being celebrated as hers on social media. Pranksters have spared no one, not even genius like Ghalib, Iqbal and Shakespeare.
Millions of people in India today are hooked on to social media and messaging service WhatsApp for their daily dose of news, views and entertainment. However, thanks to mindless shares, forwards and re-tweets, social media has turned into a black-hole of unchecked, unverified news. The staggering number of disembodied messages and videos from unknown sources keep doing rounds of social media platforms and credulous WhatsApp circuits like headless chickens. Indeed it is nearly impossible to sift truth from lies and distinguish credible facts from misinformation.
(Published in timeofIndia.indiatimes.com on October 4 , 2020)