The challenge of Fake News and Misinformation is being faced by the whole world in this era of modern technology. In Pakistan, this fake news issue is growing very fast which has adverse effects. The term fake newsstands for any false information which is presented as news. It includes the propaganda material which is launched by any specific political, social, or religious group to target a specific audience. Such news material which is distorted by clipping certain important points to give it a specific look, cannot be regarded as perfectly authentic and balanced news. Political and Social Leaders and Celebrities often fall victim to this fake news problem. There are many groups of people who are responsible for the heinous crime of spreading fake news in Pakistan.
For example, if we talk about political parties, fake news and misinformation play the role of the most effective tool of social media wars. All of the prominent political parties have their social media wings which remain busy in the promotion of their parties as well as propagation against the opponents. Often regular media gets misled by such screenshots and news-like material spread during these cyber wars, and credible News Channels or Newspapers publish them as news. In the same way, owing to the access of the majority of the population to the internet and social media, masses became careless regarding correct information or news. Millions of fake social media IDs have been created which become active anytime to launch propaganda against a specific person or group.
Hateful social media campaigns against prominent journalists of Pakistan after a specific period of time, are part of such propaganda. Fake IDs are used to spread photos of journalists with false news and accusations of financial embezzlement on Facebook or Twitter. Many journalists often face the blames of being traitor and anti-state. By the same token, fake statistics are presented as news to make it acceptable for the general public. Such propaganda material is often designed like a newspaper’s news to prove that the specific material has been taken from a newspaper. It is a tragedy the masses start believing such material as authentic.
Tweets from fake accounts with names of Theatre Artists of Lahore a few days ago, against Prime Minister and the Government of Pakistan, can be taken as a recent example of such fake news. When anti-government material was published through fake accounts of famous humorous artists Naseem Viki, Nasir Chinioti, and Amanat Chan, thousands of people spread those tweets believing them to be authentic. Opposition parties also took advantage of the moment and used them against the government. Later on, Nasir Chinioti issued a video statement that he only demands the opening of theatres. He added that anti-Imran Kahn / government material was spread by fake accounts with their name. Despite this “clarification”, the loss which is a result of ‘fake news’ cannot be reversed. There is no guarantee of the reach of the clarification video to all the people who have seen the previous tweets from the fake accounts and regarded them as authentic.
While discussing the fake news, it is pertinent to mention the news story broadcasted by Pakistan News Channel 24News about PM Imran Khan’s visit of Sindh. It was claimed in the news that dinner with a variety of dozens of dishes was arranged during PM’s visit to Sukkur. Later on, when the story proved to be fake, the Channel had to ask for an apology. Likewise, the news of the removal of Punjab CM Usman Buzdar is very common, and all such news falls under the category of ‘fake news’.
Similarly, if we talk about international media, one or the other ‘fake news’ is causing panic there every other day. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, hundreds of fake news were published; such as news of the death of UK PM Boris Johnson because of Corona Virus, which was also broadcasted by Pakistani News Channel Dawn TV within no time. We often see fake news about North Korean President Kim Jong who has a bizarre lifestyle. He is probably the only ruler around the globe, about whom the fakest news circulates.
When Kim Jong did not appear in public for many days during the COVID-19 pandemic, someone spread fake news of his death. Some credible media houses take great care regarding the broadcast of such news, but the alternate sources of information e.g social media spread such fake news with the speed of light.
One of the major reasons for the spread of ‘fake news’ in Pakistan is that numerous such people entered the field of informing people, who have zero education or training in this area. Unlimited Urdu and English websites, Youtube channels, and Facebook pages are busy reporting, here. Most of the videos are edited in such a way that they look like a report of actual news channels. Masses believe such edited videos as real news stories of a credible channel and start spreading it, which resulted in many negative impacts. ‘Fake news’ can tarnish the reputation of any person or organization. In a country like Pakistan, if a piece of fake news regarding the religious beliefs of any individual is spread, it can cost him his life. It can also be noticed that many Government Agencies are also part of the fake news factory. Sometimes they spread fake news on the name of national security/interest to create a specific environment while the need of the hour is that the government should design a mechanism to filter the news and information to minimize fake news.
Pakistan needs an effective information monitoring system which can check the authenticity and credibility of news published by news channels, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other social media websites, and stop the storming of fake news. Mainstream media channels and newspapers should also stop the culture of trusting social media news in the race of breaking news and should make the verification process of news story more transparent and credible. Banning YouTube and other information-sharing websites is not the solution, rather the problems which are surfaced by the growth of alternate media websites may be solved in modern and creative ways.