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Electronic media, social media, and manipulation: An analysis

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Electronic media, Commerce and Bias

Electronic or TV media’s role has come into question many times when the channels resorted to various unethical practices in order to increase their viewership, as an increase in viewership results in more advertisements and therefore more pecuniary benefit for these news channels. 

When the sole purpose of journalism becomes wooing the advertisers, then journalism ceases to be public service and becomes a corporate setup where all kinds of means are applied to meet the financial target. Such media setups are usually owned by people from corporate or political backgrounds who broadcast news as per their preferences and personal biases. The objective of these channels is to include catchy headlines and topics in news bulletins, in order to increase viewership, without checking the authenticity of facts. 

After the demonetization on 8th November 2016, the incessant spread of fake news caused a lot of inconvenience to people. Many media groups broadcast news bulletins in which the anchors said that the new 2000 rupee note contains a GPS chip to track it down if it is stocked anywhere in large numbers. Along with this many other rumors were spread on social media platforms after demonetization like apart from Rs 500 and Rs 2000 notes, notes of other denominations would also be demonetized. However, such fake news and rumors were debunked by RBI and other stakeholders from time to time. This alacrity was shown by news channels in being the first to break a news also showed that they were negligent in not checking the veracity of facts and figures stated by them in their news bulletins.

Apart from this, certain media groups also act as flag-bearers of different agendas. They have a political belief of their own and they project it in their TV broadcasts by favoring or opposing certain specific political factions in an indirect manner. These TV broadcasts are used as means for supporting that agenda and for vilifying those who oppose it, by putting forth the shortcomings of those who do not see eye to eye with them.  

Some media groups also manipulate the common people by the means of selective news reporting, which includes preventing certain specific topics of national importance from coming to fore.

Trial by Media

Media trial is another vice in Indian journalism. It begins when a controversial case or a case involving notable people comes into the court of law for trial. The public shows eagerness to know all the facts related to such cases and then electronic media caters to this need through its reporting of such cases. This kind of news reporting is based not only on the officially disclosed information but also on the conjectures derived through the so called ‘investigative journalism’ carried out by these media groups with a motive to point towards an individual and refer to him/her as the culprit, which is followed by the vilification of that individual in this broadcast. Such broadcasts lack concrete evidence against the individual who is shown in bad light. The trial by media or media trial, acts as an opinion maker which influences the opinion of the viewers and makes them believe that the person being vilified in the broadcast is the real culprit. In this way, media groups succeed in imprinting their subjective opinion on the minds of viewers. 

In the recent case of actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s tragic death, media trial hit a new low as the news broadcasts dragged his matter for months taking in consideration the potential gain in viewership. This case saw the vilification of Sushant’s girlfriend Rhea Chakraborty, his close friends, colleagues and the big names in the film fraternity were all made a party to this media trial. The media groups kept on bringing new angles like depression, black magic, drugs etc. to this matter, in order to gain maximum pecuniary profit from it.

The trial by media has also affected the course of justice which is based on true evidence, and this has been admitted by courts in various instances. It has affected the course of justice in popular cases like Aarushi Talwar and Hemraj dual murder case, Jessica Lal murder case, and the recent Sushant Singh Rajput’s death case.

Fake news on Social Media

Threat to Communal Harmony

The spread of fake news on social media is a major threat to peace and harmony in society, as it creates an environment of fear and at times, it makes people of different sections of society get involved in unethical activities and even crimes. There are messages shared repeatedly by anti-social elements on these social media sites to instigate people, which creates differences among different sections of society.  The differences may be on the basis of religion, caste, etc. This results in a rise of communal tension between any two sections and sometimes leads to riots. There have been instances where people committing such offenses have admitted to having been instigated by posts on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Whatsapp. Such incidents also raise questions on the mechanism opted by different social media sites to curb this menace. 

The 2013 riots of Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh were a result of widespread sharing of fake news. The local police had stated that an old video clip from Pakistan was posted online and then repeatedly shared with an intention to incite violence. This is how the perpetrators misrepresent facts in social media posts and such posts create sparks that have the potential to burn down a city.

The Bengaluru riots of last year in the DJ Halli police station area which started at a Congress MLA’s house and later grew immensely violent were the result of a Facebook post. This post was allegedly derogatory to the religious faith of a community and the widespread sharing of that post led to communal violence. 

The abovementioned are two major communal incidents of the last decade that took the whole country by shock, but there have been a lot of cases of comparatively lesser magnitude.

Chaos during Pandemic

The spread of fake news on social media in the peak phase of the COVID – 19 pandemic led to a situation of ubiquitous confusion and chaos, not just in India but across the Globe. At a time, when not much was known about this lethal disease, the widespread sharing of mendacious claims of availability of medicinal solutions and surreal ways of prevention aggravated the situation. These rumors misled people and made them resort to panic buying. The dissemination of fake news happened at such a rapid pace that almost all users came across such messages or posts which can create an environment of fear. However, the government took various measures to spread awareness on the pandemic and debunked these rumors from time to time using TV advertisements and official social media accounts of various ministries.

Despite all the sincere efforts of the government, these rumors managed to affect the lives of common people because there were so many of them that making people immune to them became an uphill task. It is necessary that people refrain from forwarding unverified messages received from unreliable sources on different online messaging platforms and the same practice should be followed while an individual is scrolling through social media posts i.e one should avoid sharing unverified posts by unreliable sources on social media platforms. The online messaging service giant, Whatsapp took an important step to curb the mass forwarding of messages by including a feature that indicates if a message has been forwarded multiple times and also prevents the users from forwarding such messages to more than one user at a time. 

Similar feature was added by micro-blogging site Twitter, which puts warning labels on tweets which contain misleading information, which helps users to distinguish between the true and false information. 

Along the same lines, other social media platforms should also take steps to curb the spread of fake news.  

Conclusion

When electronic media groups become commercial entities, then monetary gains become their priority. In a quest of wooing advertisers, they abandon the virtue of public service and this gives rise to the vices like news fabrication, narrative formation and media trial.

 In my opinion, advertisement based media can never raise the genuine concerns of the public because if public funding is not the source of their income then one cannot expect them to be accountable to the public and that is the reason why the rise of subscription-based media is the need of the hour. Subscription-based media is the form of media that is completely advertisement-free and which is run only by the payment made by its subscribers(people who pay for news consumption).  As a result of this, the inclusion of personal bias in news bulletins will surely become past, the veracity of facts will be ensured and the media will become more accountable to people. 

Social media platforms should act more strictly in order to curb the spread of fake news and it is also the responsibility of people to avoid sharing unverified information especially in difficult times such as those of communal tension and pandemic. 

In this way, it can be said that both the media and social media are manipulating people in a direct or indirect manner and the same could be prevented by people if they pay heed to their surroundings and act accordingly.

Shashank Tripathi is a first year law student at Hidayatullah National Law University, Raipur

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