London: Fake news spread instantaneously over WhatsApp chat groups and Facebook is causing a “firestorm” in India and resulting in the loss of lives, warns the BBC in a new investigative report from Bangalore.
The British public broadcaster is set to highlight the issue in a report to be aired on BBC World News on Tuesday centred around the death of Kaluram Bachanram, who was beaten to death by a mob in Bangalore after WhastApp rumours convinced people that he was a child kidnapper.
“Kalu became a victim of India’s fake news firestorm… Across India eight lives have been lost in this latest wave of fallacy defeating fact. Fake news is a challenge we all grapple with but here it is proving deadly,” the BBC correspondent says in his report.
The BBC has been working to combat the issue of fake news through initiatives such as “BBC Reality Check”, a political discourse fact-checking service. It was launched during the European Union (EU) referendum in 2016 for both TV and online and has now been made permanent and covers a wide range of issues.
“Fake news is a big problem and it’s vital for democracy that ordinary people are able to tell truth from fiction in the news they read, watch, and hear,” said Jim Egan, CEO of BBC Global News Ltd.
He noted: “Trusted news will be as important as ever as we approach the elections in India next year, however a recent BBC ‘Value of News’ study found that 83 per cent of Indian news consumers are concerned about fake news.
“We experienced the reality of this problem recently when a fake survey on Karnataka polls circulated on WhatsApp with BBC News branding and we were forced to put out a statement making clear that it did not come from the BBC.”
BBC News said it is doing a number of things to empower people to look at the stories they read with a critical eye. Slow news is more of a focus alongside breaking news, with more in-depth analysis of topics with data, investigations and expertise to provide context around the issues.
All these initiatives are part of BBC News’ wider investment drive in India, creating 157 new jobs in the region and making Delhi the BBC’s largest bureau outside the UK.
The Delhi bureau will become a video, TV and digital content production hub for the South Asia region, with the closest technological specifications to the corporation’s headquarters in London.
The expansion began with the launch of four new Indian services – Telugu, Gujarati, Marathi and Punjabi – in October last year.
In addition, BBC StoryWorks, the global content marketing team within BBC Global News, has expanded to India with staff now based in the country for the first time as part of wider growth across the Asia Pacific region, the public broadcaster said.