Fact , Fiction And Fake News


In the world of social science research, where human beings are the objects, or rather, ‘subjects’ of study, the intention to evaluate and examine people according to set standards often faces resistance from different quarters. Some of the arguments that are commonly advanced are that there is always a danger of generalising results of studies, the power equation of the researcher and subject is heavily in favour of the researcher, controls for accepting the results of the study are needed because placing absolute trust in the researcher can be risky and so on. Even in non-academic research situations, such as media interviews or police investigations, wherever a larger framework of discovering the facts is adhered to, similar problems can be observed. Many police investigations are criticized because they create facts suited to those in command, deciding cases in a whimsical manner or completing erasing records of reports. The media or the fourth arm also performs a similar role when it promotes ‘fake news’ to suit vested interests. When the organizations respected for their objectivity and neutral analysis, be they academia or media or investigating bodies, compromise their source material and play with facts, how does that affect us?

Religious tensions or riot situations created by the spread of inflammable rumours are cases in point. Especially in contexts with histories of violence a single rumour about disrespect shown to or destruction of, a prominent identity marker can kindle unexpected fires that leave governments unprepared. In such cases, a maliciously worded WhatsApp text message, a Facebook post bringing ‘dishonour’ to the religion, or media action reporting riots where there are none, may successfully garner public attention, but they distort the veracity of fact. This distortion also undermines the principles of human existence recognized by democracies worldwide—integrity, dignity, and eventually fraternity. What Gandhi foregrounded as Satyameva Jayate is forgotten in the interests of the dominant narratives exploiting their power to decide what is true and false. This is also related to the modifications of history. While history is regarded as a network of interpretations of the events/personalities/situations of the past, the interpretations have been widely argued about for years to arrive at some semblance about consensus. For ‘historical facts’ that do not have a consensus, different readings are accepted as valid from different perspectives. But, inventing facts according to the ideology of the current group in power, such as changing the dates of historical records or the victor and victim sides of battles, or claiming monopoly over modern science through the faulty logic of blindly accepting myth and mysticism as fact, damages the field. And damaging the sources of history, or the present, that is the people’s words, is a grave insult to the values of human life that we are taught in our ‘liberal’ education systems.

A single tweet by Donald Trump sends the world into a tizzy. For a man in control of nuclear weapons, and fundamentally embedded in the phenomenon of ‘fake news’ since he is hardly aware of the facts, a mere word is sufficient to strike fear. But, what makes one more scared is that the surge of right-wing conservatism worldwide is now erasing alternative discourses to only propound one narrative, which serves to normalise their system. For instance, greater media coverage of even inane events surrounding public personalities, like the UP CM’s lack of hair and his barber’s interview (reported on many channels) makes headlines, while unemployment, gendered violence etc. are ignored by the popular imagination. Numerous acts of silencing such as restriction of public spaces of protests, violent repression of dissent, using religious categories and party allegiance to reduce citizens to the category of ‘anti-national’ are only the tip of the iceberg. The reality of forced obedience to the ‘acceptable’ frame of thought and action naturalises behaviour. It will not be strange to think that the next generation might be trained as machine-manufactured ‘nationalistic’ labour, whose entire destiny is determined by The Party. George Orwell’s 1984 is thus tragically futuristic, because in coining words like ‘thought-crime’ when the thought of an ‘anti-national’ activity as defined by the authority is a destruction of the communal and national fabric, he anticipated the Alt-Right of the present. What remains to be seen is when the Aadhar system’s intrusive surveillance will be read as Big Brother.

-Contributed by Tript

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