While the Pakistan Army is vehemently defending our borders from aggressive pursuits of the Indian Air Force (IAF), there is another war brewing in cyberspace. Social media is now being bombarded by false information which is driven mostly by the Indian side. One war leads to another. In today’s information age an act of military aggression, however small, is quickly transformed into a hefty mess which immediately invites condemnation and ridicule. A war of words ensues and emotions run well beyond the grasp of calculated judgement. One becomes increasingly gullible and easily lured by misinformation especially if it mirrors their deep-rooted beliefs. A caged mind is a dangerous animal.
The digital media presents a huge battleground for information warfare. Virtual disputations can sometimes materialize into reality. Fake news is aplenty and social media often succumbs to viral sensationalism. In 2016, Khawaja Muhammad Asif, who was Pakistan’s Defence Minister at the time, issued a stern warning to Avigdor Lieberman, his Israeli counterpart, reminding him that “Pakistan is a nuclear state too.” This was in reply to the fake news in which Lieberman allegedly threatened to nuke Pakistan if it sends troops to Syria. We can all fall victim to bogus news material and the trick to navigating in the digital age is to be extra cautious when masticating assorted bits of information.
In the wake of recent upheaval along the Line of Control (LOC), Indian news media has resorted to pseudo-reporting to save face. There were reports that Indian jets have “courageously bombed a terrorist hideout killing over 300 terrorists.” The following day many Indian news agencies proudly reported that IAF has succeeded in taking down a Pakistani F-16 for allegedly violating Indian airspace. Celebrations of triumph and heroism could be witnessed in the cyberspace but international media was quick to debunk these myths. This presents an interesting case study for all of us. It shows how electronic and digital media can easily succeed in misleading the public and how misinformation can spread like wild fire anchoring itself on fiery sentiments.
We need to remain calm during times like these. The people of India are now fidgeting for answers. There seems to be no proof that India attacked a terrorist base in Pakistan. There is no sign of downed F-16 jet. Indian news channels have not even displayed a single convincing piece of evidence to support their far-fetched claims. When one of IAF’s pilot was captured by the Pakistan Army, Indian news channels were in complete denial even after video evidence of the captured pilot surfaced.
Now Pakistan has agreed to free the pilot and send him home as a gesture of goodwill. But the Indian media is interpreting this gesture of peace in a totally different way. They are depicting this story as yet another heroic achievement by India. The Indian opposition party is now accusing Narendra Modi of desperately trying to mint votes out of the whole ordeal. But will the Indian public buy any more lies? The international media has already confirmed Pakistan’s side of the story proving that lies propagated by the Indian media were indeed lies.
I would like to share some tips to my neighbouring fellows to help them better identify fake news and save themselves from propaganda which can incite violence and create an atmosphere of hate. Spotting fake news surrounding major world events is very straightforward. Such news is bound to be reported by multiple sources. One needs to check what major international news outlets are saying. We need to check if there are any discrepancies between different reports. It is also wise to closely observe the language used in reporting events. Sometimes news anchors deliberately use provocative words and speak in an emotionally charged manner. If this is indeed the case then one should be extra careful and avoid bowing to rhetoric. There are usually only a handful of news outlets and media sources which closely follow a code of ethics when reporting.
Newspapers also publish opinionated articles and it is always advisable to check the background of the author to see if the article might be heavily biased. Furthermore articles from anonymous sources should largely be discredited and named sources should be preferred. One must be especially careful when reading news or anecdotes from social media. It is important to separate fact from parodies or works of satire.
With the advent of social media every individual has been empowered to share their opinions and contribute towards spreading information. We are also “gatekeepers” and can prevent spread of misinformation by playing an active role in investigating sources and their trustworthiness. Every citizen has a duty to safeguard others from the power of manipulation.
The article was originally published in TheWeeklyPakistan on March 1, 2019. For original content click here.