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New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government’s new fact-checking unit to identify fake news aims to expand its services in local Indian languages, ThePrint has learnt. It is understood that false information is largely spread via regional languages in the country.

The fact-checking unit was formed on 15 November last year under the Press Information Bureau (PIB), to identify misinformation related to government’s policies and schemes that are circulating on various social media platforms.

Sources in the government told ThePrint that the unit currently busts misinformation in English and Hindi. “The long-term plan is to expand the unit’s functioning to regional languages as fake news spreads the fastest in them,” said an official, who did not wish to be named.

The unit takes cognisance of fake news based on inputs received from people and also suo motu. It has been set up on the lines of the Rapid Response Unit that was created by the UK government in 2018.

Some of the popular private fact-checking initiatives include Alt News, Factly, Newsmobile, SMHoaxSlayer and Factchecker.in and Boom fact check, an initiative of BoomLive.

Several foreign media organisations such as The Washington Post, Time magazine, AFP and AP, even Facebook, have also set up their own fact-checking units.


Also read: ‘Police brutality videos need verification’ — UP DGP says CAA protesters used illegal arms


Acting as myth-busters

Unlike foreign media, India’s needs are unique since the country is home to hundreds of regional languages.

But PIB’s expansion plans would be dependent on work force and resources, the official quoted above said. The unit is currently working with a team of just three people and a shoestring budget.

It also aims to carry out detailed feedback and analysis of misinformation related to government programmes. With protests going on against the Citizenship Amendment Act, the unit had last month released a series of ‘myth busters’ (about the Act) on Twitter.

There are also plans to induct advanced technologies for easier and accurate detection of fake news and misinformation. It currently uses software such as InVid and Google Reverse Image.

Speaking to ThePrint, Alt News co-founder Pratik Sinha said while targeting misinformation and fake news should be expanded to regional languages, there is a greater need to educate the masses about the perils of misinformation.

“None of the misinformation created is coincidental but the larger problem is that most fact-checks are not reaching the masses. Forget about rural areas, they are not even reaching Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities,” he said.

The political destination is important when it comes to misinformation, he said.

“Most of the misinformation depends on the political narrative, which a party wants to send. Traditionally, the Hindi heartland has been the target but that varies with the political destination at that point,” Sinha said, adding Bengal was the most targeted state in terms of spreading misinformation and fake news during the Lok Sabha polls.

568 inputs on fake news received

The PIB’s fact-checking unit has a WhatsApp Hotline number and an email address where people can send alerts about misinformation related to government’s policies and schemes.

In the one-and-a-half month since it was created, the unit claims to have received 568 emails and messages so far. Of the 568 inputs received, the unit took action on 79 reports of fake news, said the government sources, who added that a large number, 269, were found to be “irrelevant”.

The unit also has to sift through several hoax messages, especially those related to hospital and bank frauds.


Also read: Singapore goes on global offensive to defend fake news law


 

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