Alpesh Patel’s Political Sketchbook: “How to protect truth in the age of disinformation?”

Monday 23rd December 2019 09:24 EST

There is a wonderful TED talk of a similar title. We know from Brexit and the UK general election and the US election that truth is under fire like never before. A lie is half way around the world before the truth has time to put its trousers on. 

 In India, misinformation can lead to mob killings. Some countries shut down the internet to protect citizens, but other nations, not liberal democracies use this to silence legitimate protest. 
Or take WhatsApp messages – there is something compelling about untruths passed by WhatsApp. Especially when you want to believe something because it confirms your pre-existing biases.
Why does false news travel faster? Studies show it to be the case. It is not that liars have more followers. In fact they have fewer. So how does it travel faster? Apparently, there is something called the ‘novelty hypothesis’. We like to share novel or new information. Or news! Its why newspapers were born. We feel like insiders when sharing it. It even gives us status to pass something novel. 
This is important. It can cost lives. Laws cannot educate a grandmother to become an investigative journalist. We are actually preying on human nature, and we understand human nature very well and can manipulate it better than ever. Bots can magnify a lot quicker.
Take India and the CAA. The protests, some are legitimate based on the legal aspects of the law. But a cursory scan of the headlines and the protests show the number of fake protests. Protests founded to confirm a pre-existing bias that they are living in a ‘Nazi’ state. 
In all this, the land of Gandhi, the man who spoke about his quest for truth suffers from riots. There are people simply not interested in the truth, but in the novelty to confirm their prejudices. 
Who gets to decide what is true and false? Dis-confirmation bias, that search for the what will prove you wrong, is rare said the billionaire hedge fund manager, George Soros – and it will make you rich he said. We so often want to be fooled. Studies also show the reaction we have to fake news, believing it to be true, show anger and disgust more often than truth or non-novel news. And other studies show anger is a feeling that we sometimes like feeling. The millennials it is said are too easily offended. 
Actually, anger, and hate, is like a Facebook like for many. It makes them actually happier. It’s probably some evolutionary release valve, but not, we are looking for it, for anger, for hate, just as we look for Facebook likes. 

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