Tackling disinformation

Karkhana Pvt Ltd
August 26, 2021

There used to be a time when people had few but reliable sources of information. Finding the information one was looking for would often be tedious and time consuming. Things are different today. We are almost always able to access the information we need in a matter of seconds. This was supposed to save us a lot of time and it has. But unfortunately, a new problem has consumed the time we saved from searching for information; perhaps even more.

Being able to differentiate between reality and falsehood has become almost a basic necessity in the digital world. In this article, we are going to check some convincing pieces of information we came across on the internet.

“Seeing is believing” is an age-old proverb. Today, when image manipulation has become so easy and accessible, does the proverb still hold true? Let’s have a look at a few images to find out.

For this example, I would like to use a few photos involving India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Below are a few images shared by his followers in social media.

The above image was circulated highlighting the humble background of Narendra Modi.

The second image above shows Modi walking with then US president Barack Obama.

Can you tell if they are real or not? Maybe we can guess a few but it’s difficult to be certain by simply looking. Luckily, there’s reverse image search to aid us.

Reverse searching these images revealed the that these are fabricated images, often created using tools such as photoshop. The original images are shown below.

When it comes to fake images, manipulated images as shown above aren’t the only problems. Would you be surprised to know that real, genuine images too can be used as fake images? Well, they can be if used in a totally different context. Let’s have a look at another example.

Images and videos showing dead bodies of children laid on the floor of a room, half covered with sheets, had gone viral in Tamilnadu state of India in 2016. This visual, along with a text narrative, created panic, fear and rage among the locals. According to the message, Tamil Nadu police found that these children had been kidnapped from other countries and brought to India and their bodies were found with organs such as the kidney and liver removed. The message comes with a warning to keep children safe and share the news so that the perpetrator is caught. It eventually led to multiple cases of mob lynchings and deaths. The images and videos were real in this case. The fake part was the context. The visuals were actually of children who were killed in a chemical attack in Ghouta, Syria in August 2013. It is not uncommon to see old images picked out of time and context to suit the agenda of the person circulating the messages or posts.

When it comes to news, one major difference between real and fake is the coherence. Reports of real news from different portals are more or less coherent because they all have the same solid foundation of facts. Fake news, on the other hand, is usually crafted by a particular far-right group or person and thus its original occurrences are few. Most reports are simply echoing what they gathered from the first disinformation source. Even when there are multiple outlets echoing fake news on the same topic, you will find the coherence missing as there is no solid ground to stand on.

About a year ago all the major media houses in Nepal picked up a story on Chinese occupation of Nepali borders based on a fake photo doing rounds of a supposed statement issued by the Ministry of Agriculture. MySansar’s blogs highlight how these media houses all fell for this fake document. All the pieces lack credible sources and are echoing information gathered from the first disinformation source. This is a classic example of how disinformation can be so easily amplified and credible sources can easily fall for it as well. 

There’s also a list of self check questions you can ask yourself whenever you are confused:

  • Who created/published this piece of information?
  • When was it published?
  • What might have been the objective of the information?
  • Is it based on facts or opinions?
  • Does it sound biased?

Asking these questions when you come across any piece of information lets you have a broader perspective on the content and also helps you think critically.

Finally, there exist organizations dedicated to fighting disinformation. Being frequently in touch with them can be a good idea in order to keep oneself aware of the recently debunked falsehood.

Factcheck – US based fact-checking organization

Snopes – US based fact-checking organization

Altnews – An Indian fact check organization

Mysansar – A Nepali blog known as an antidote to mainstream media

Southasiacheck – a blog that mainly fact checks the news in Nepal and monitors the mainstream media

Nepalfactcheck – a fact-checking organization working in Nepal