This article received first place in ‘Inklings -- the feature writing competition’, sponsored by The Citizen at Kamla Nehru College’s annual journalism fest, Journo Junction. The topic for the competition was: ‘New Age Media: Diaspora of Fake News and Spreading Dissent.’ The writer, Ankita Adak from Lady Shri Ram College, won first place for this essay.

In an interview, Donald Trump’s spokesperson Kellyanne Conway defended Trump’s statement regarding the turnout during his oath-taking ceremony and said that he was presenting “alternative facts”. A fact, by definition, is accepted to be a universally established truth whose credibility is taken for granted. Thus, Conway’s use of the phrase “alternative facts” is in itself an oxymoron which raises an important question about the credibility of news, or ostensible facts, in our society.

Scholars believe that we are currently living in a post-truth society. Post-truth implies a world where you create your own truth. It is about what you choose to believe in, contrary to what facts might suggest. As such, with burgeoning social media platforms, everyone is able to formulate their own opinion rapidly without any introspection or accountability. People no longer read to challenge their thinking, but only to further their own opinions. As for instance, a right wing supporter will not click on an article whose title says: How the Modi support is fading. Even if the person does, an interminable debate will ensue in the comments section between him and people who believe the said fact to be true. No one is willing to listen or rationalize with the views of others in a post-truth society.

The current media is not distant from the ill effects of a post-truth society. Instances of fake news have been on the rise lately. In 2015, when the JNU incident happened, Zee News had come under the radar for apparently running a doctored video of the students vociferously chanting “anti-national” slogans. The authenticity of this video was challenged, but it later got lost in the quagmire of debate around nationalism. This is also a quintessential example of how fake news creates a façade of irrelevant debates by drawing attention away from the real issues at hand.

Fake news, however, is not always a bad thing. This might sound erratic, but we cannot talk about “fake news” without mentioning alternative media platforms which also deal with contemporary issues with a spin of humour. I am referring to famous American talk shows like The Daily Show, Last Week with John Oliver, Late Night with Stephen Colbert, amongst others. The Daily Show which goes by the tagline—“World’s finest Fake News Show”—does daily takes on the day’s headlines in a humorous way. These satirical mediums sometimes provide a more valuable insight into news than the traditional media platforms. In India too, shows like ‘On Air with AIB’ have taken the forefront in doing social commentary. However, issues of censorship lurk largely with such content in our country.

With the rise of these alternative media platforms humour has become an important tool of subversion and social critique. As Trevor Noah says, “A situation is not that dire when you can laugh at it.” These platforms are also becoming a potent medium to mould public opinion and spread dissent. Dissent, as in, they are probing people to think more critically about the kind of news that is served to us by various social media platforms. So the next time you see a tweet from an unidentified account or read a randomly forwarded message on WhatsApp, take a step back to think about its credibility. That’s the least that we can do to counter the spread of fake news. After all, there should also be an expiry date on blaming it all on the society that we have created for ourselves.

Lastly, I would like to conclude with what the renowned physicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson has said, there are three kinds of truth: universal, social and personal. The universal truth refers to the laws of physics which cannot be changed; social truth refers to the fact that all people should be equal irrespective of their race, ethnicity or gender; and personal truth refers to your own truth which could be prejudiced considering your given circumstances or social conditioning. It is important for us to separate between our social and personal truths in order to create a better society where a fact can be taken for what it is.

(Ankita Adak is pursuing B.A.(Hons.) English at Lady Shri Ram College for Women, Delhi University)