Since the inception of mankind, information has played a major role in shaping the societies and policies of nations. With time, information is used as a tool to propagate ideologies or to create awareness among the masses about different issues. With the advent of the Internet, it is now the era of information to the extent where the same information has the tendency to generate misinformation; we are living in an era where everything positive or negative is just a click away from us. While the information being fed to us benefits us in the longer run, it may also manipulate our thought process, provoke negativity and create biases. These days, it has become increasingly difficult to sift true and authentic news from false propaganda. Disinformation, misinformation, and fake news are being spread all around to mold the mind of a common man.
Disinformation is a subset of propaganda and is spread among the masses deliberately to misguide them. People start believing all kinds of the information that is fed to them through social media, online news channels, magazines, etc. One would argue that in modern times, the state must play an integral role in controlling all types of mediums through which information is disseminated.
False information; regardless of whether there is intent to mislead or not is equally detrimental to society. It creates biases that cause us to look at the world around us from a certain perspective and therefore, react with existing grievances and beliefs. Click bait creates quick engagement and anything controversial will spread like a wildfire, regardless of the consequences. In recent times, we have seen that videos on social media have such catchy captions that people cannot resist the urge to open those videos. The content creators in return earn money and there is no way for the audience to verify the authenticity of the content so they start believing in whatever they watch or hear.
With the emergence of globalization and industrial revolution, digital propaganda materialized to achieve the aim by involving deceptive and pseudo-information that sells like anything via different digital platforms to manipulate public opinion. The recent trend has been observed that a certain group of pseudo intellects, social media activists under the supervision of a channeled group as well as IT experts are working together against the state institutions and the heads and propagating misinformation among the society. These interest groups not only rely on the people but bots to promote their own agenda. These bots help the misinformation spread quickly as well as repetitively.
There are number of stories where the state institutions have denied the information coming from these platforms. Recently, a malicious social media post claiming it to be from Air Marshal Zafar Mirza, retd surfaced. These groups not only harmed the society but have also created division. Talking about the Twitter mainly, everyday there appears to be some coordinated trends coming up against the military and its leadership. This doesn’t stop here but these trends become news and travel to the main stream media too. The increasing propaganda can lead to significant consequences including destabilizing the state’s institutions, undermining democracy, and weakening the trust of the public in the democratic processes.
Fake news which is false or misleading information presented to us in the news. It has become a potent tool, especially while reporting war and conflict. Each side involved tells its version of the story. For instance; in the Middle East, white helmets were portrayed as a symbol of hope for mankind but instead, they became controversial after certain videos of their misconduct started making rounds on social media. The perceived saviors got a lot of airtime on BBC and Aljazeera and in the end, they turned out to be actors funded by the west to misguide the world.
Nowadays, we are being fed with so much information round the clock that it has become nearly impossible for us to verify the source of news and its authenticity. Every century had its challenges, but in the last hundred years technology has evolved so much that it is far easier to spread a lie than it was before. It is harder for countries to wage conventional wars against each other, so they have moved to hybrid warfare in which fake news plays a major role. Hate crimes such as mass shootings are increasing with each passing day in developed nations where the person committing the crime is often a youngster aged between 18-25, whose sole motive behind such a heinous crime is a piece of information that was fed to him through social media. There must be an increase in accountability of these social news channels and online news sources and governments must closely monitor the content that circulates on their social media to avoid unfair biases and blind following of every piece of information.
Note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Pakistan Strategic Forum.