x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Don't spread fake 'news' if you want me to respect you

A hard-lining approach is the only way to deal with people who circulate fake news, like celebrity deaths.

The other day, as usual, I reached for my BlackBerry as soon as I woke up. Also, as usual, it was flashing red, indicating that BBMs had been coming in through the night. I unlocked it wearily, ready to delete without reading yet another barrage of broadcast messages inviting me to show my "support" to some event, party or club night or the other - always from the usual suspects. One of the messages was from a contact who never forwards spam broadcasts. Curious, I opened it. And as I read it, I had to sit down.

Ayushmann Khurrana - an actor who made his Bollywood debut just last year - had passed away in a sporting accident. Clicking the link revealed that Khurrana - who was in Zermatt, Switzerland with family and friends - lost control of his snowboard, crashed into a tree and sustained massive injuries. Despite being rushed to a hospital, he couldn't be saved.

The news made me very, very sad. I thought of the first time I met him: he was in Dubai last year to promote his film Vicky Donor. Khurrana was instantly endearing, as he excitedly revealed his hopes and expectations from his debut film. He even gave me his personal email address to send my feedback on the film after I had seen it.

He was just 28. His second film - Nautanki Saala - had just come out a few days ago. I had just spoken to him about the film for an interview that had been published in this paper on April 14.

I had just woken up and this was not the best way to have done it. Wait a minute! I had just woken up, right? It took a few more seconds for my brain to start functioning at least partially; it wouldn't start functioning fully until I had downed my morning cup of karak chai.

I did what any sane person does these days when they receive any kind of news: I Googled it.

Sure enough, the news was a hoax. It had originated on Global Associated News (a bona fide "fake news" generator where you can - among other things - fake the news of a celebrity's death). All the mischief-minded creator had to do was send the fake news to a bunch of people and trigger-happy folks would spread it all over the world in no time.

I sent this BBM to the person I had received the "news" from: "You should really check the authenticity of news before forwarding it. You were one of the last people I expected to forward fake news, and that too of a person's death. Shame on you."

A hard-line approach is really the only way to deal with people who circulate fake news and urban legends. They just can't get it in their heads that Facebook's Graph App does not make your private Facebook content visible to strangers, the application of egg whites will not prevent burns, KFC did not stop using the word "chicken" because it serves meat from mutant animals and "moneybag" months with five Fridays, five Saturdays, and five Sundays do not occur only once every 800+ years.

Just some friendly advice to anyone who loves going to town with the "share" button: forwarding this kind of information does no one any service. All it does is flag how gullible you are. So next time, do us all a favour and confirm it first.

 

The writer is an honest-to-goodness desi living in Dubai