On January 6, the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Nagaland issued a categorical clarification that the office has not made any announcement regarding the date for the Nagaland Legislative Assembly Election 2023. Accordingly, viral social media messages regarding the issue are “FAKE,” it stated.
Needless to say, as the CEO’s clarification noted, the date and timing of the Nagaland Assembly Election, or for that matter, any assembly or parliamentary elections are widely notified by the Election Commission of India, the constitutional body, among others, tasked to conduct and regulate elections across India. However, it does not stop certain elements from ‘prospecting’ on the issue.
Such developments were witnessed in the past too in Nagaland including a ‘fake’ news report of alleged rendezvous of a key functionary of a national party in the run-up to the 2018 assembly election as well as a “Top Confidential” letter with the Chief Minister’s letterhead seeking a post-poll alliance for a “secular government” before the parliamentary election in 2019. It was then termed as a “very serious political crimes that challenge the foundations of democracy aimed at making innocent citizens lose confidence in the system and the government” by the party to which the CM belongs.
It is not restricted to Nagaland alone but a worldwide phenomenon and in essence reflects the current zeitgeist - the world of ‘Fake News.’ A UNESCO handbook on ‘Journalism, 'Fake News' and Disinformation’ explained that there are three categories of ‘news’ that is often unwittingly shared on social media: Disinformation - Information that is false and deliberately created to harm a person, social group, organisation or country; Misinformation - Information that is false but not created with the intention of causing harm; and Mal-information: Information that is based on reality, used to inflict harm on a person, social group, organisation or country.
Orchestrated campaigns are spreading untruths - disinformation, mal-information and misinformation, the Handbook noted, clubbing it among range of factors that are transforming the communications landscape, raising questions about the quality, impact and credibility of journalism. Though fake news is not a modern’s day bane, such campaigns are increasingly getting niftier, faster and more widespread amid the rapid technological change. The arrival of the internet and social media have changed the ways ‘news’ are created, spread and most importantly, manipulated. Often, ‘harmless’ messages and videos share as ‘forwarded as received’ or ‘Copy Paste’ on any social media platforms are most sensational and dodgy.
With the tenure of the current Nagaland Legislative Assembly ending shortly and a change of guard in a month or two, ‘campaigns to spreading untruths’ may see a rise as various stakeholders sound their poll bugle both offline and online. With the proliferation of often faceless ‘news’ outlets and on-your-face ‘journalism’ becoming the current fad, there are possibilities of these entities being used by political parties and other stakeholders for various motives.
Accordingly, the speedy flow of authentic sources would go a long way in checking any use of social media platforms for malicious and vested intent. It is imperative that both the media and various state machineries are gear-up and alert to meet the challenges and reassure the citizens, transparently and swiftly, that things are under monitored constantly and perhaps under control.
The citizens too need to be wary and responsible about what is being received, shared or forwarded and authenticity must be the deciding factor, not the sharing prematurely. As noted in this column before appropriating Alexander Pope to suit the signs of time: “To share is human; to share it after verifying is superhuman.”
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