“Success is getting what you want. Happiness is wanting what you get.”
– Dale Carnegie
What is known about the murder of Gauri Lankesh is this: unidentified assailants on September 5, 2017 fired at Lankesh outside her home in an up-scale residential suburb of Bengaluru; her neighbours claim they heard the shots but thought they were crackers; one of them discovered her body on the doorway to her residence and called the police. The Karnataka Police has finally claimed to have cracked the Gauri Lankesh murder case. Like all police briefings, in the first flush of rounding up of suspects, all assertions need to be taken with a pinch of salt. Her forte was her anti-establishment stance with an unalloyed tinge of secularism which also became the reason for her death. But what we have from the police is a confusing account of investigations. No murder, whether of an innocent citizen or of a dissenting journalist, can be condoned on the grounds that it is the order of the day. That it has happened before and will happen again.
Gauri Lankesh, known for her blunt views about the RSS and right wing majoritarian ideology, had finalised her editorial for the week on fake news before being shot dead. Her last editorial focused on the menace of fake news and recounted her own battle with it when she fell victim once unknowingly for which she expressed regret. Lankesh ends the editorial on a confident note, saluting those exposing fake news and hoping there will be more fake news busters. The late Shujaat Bukhari, before he was gunned down in the heart of Srinagar, returned from a global editors’ meet in Lisbon and wrote that fake news was “a multifarious challenge that had come mostly with fast-changing technology.” Nobody told him to shut up; he was silenced for other more glaring opinions. Viewpoints did not go down well with those with an opposing viewpoint.
It is almost instinctual nowadays for the average individual to believe unquestioningly what he or she may see in or hear on the print and electronic media. The rise of digital and social media as powerful platforms has only magnified the effect of fake and false news. Umpteen number of news/information portals are being set up as there are few entry barriers unlike in the traditional media. In addition, growing polarisation of society on ideological lines has made the job of spreading fake news easier. Both Google and Facebook, as the largest platforms for content distribution, are said to be creating systems that will filter fake news. But these efforts are relatively new. The biggest creator of fake news in India is WhatsApp. The spate of lynchings in recent days and weeks reported from south Indian states like Karnataka, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Assam’s Karbi Anglong district on account of rumours of child lifting circulating through WhatsApp messages – deserves urgent attention of governments across India. Awareness needs to be created about fake news on social media, and people must wait for authoritative corroboration. The Sarbananda Sonawal government has announced an awareness programme ‘Sanskaar-Maanuhe Maanuhor Babe’ with an aim to root out superstitious beliefs in rural areas. The lack of uniform guidelines, regulation and policy regarding such fabricated content needs to be addressed urgently.