Author: Manoj Khatri

Authentic Misinformation

Authentic Misinformation

Someone shared a fake story in my society group about veteran BBC correspondent Mark Tully heaping praises on Narendra Modi.

The article was forwarded with the link to an altnews.in story exposing it as a fake story but the member who forwarded it probably didn’t bother to check the link because the accompanying text was so full of Modi’s greatness. I gently pointed out that the link says it’s fake news.

As expected, another member of the group — a hardcore supporter of PM — retorted, “But it’s true, what is written”. I reminded her that Mark Tully didn’t say any of it, to which she said: “But the message has truth in it; we can also be sure that BBC will never ever tell the truth as far as India is concerned.” I said, “But using Tully’s name for credibility indicates something else”.

To which she said, “We Indians normally believe anything coming from abroad, so even to tell the truth it’s OK to use this method which is even said so by thiruvalluvar”. I didn’t get that last bit about thiruvalluvar but sensed the pointlessness of this conversation. I felt like I was trying to remove the blindfold of someone who has firmly shut her eyes inside. I closed my argument saying, “Well, not good for credibility. Truth doesn’t need any propaganda.” Her response: “But unfortunately in this era of false propaganda by vested interests, even truth has to fight its way to prove itself, that too when vested interests have enormous wealth to bribe the so called famous people to say what these people want to say for money. It’s very difficult for truth to even exist.”

Beware of the bias within

Regardless of clear evidence that contradicts them, we tend to believe as authentic stories that confirm our biases. This phenomenon—of being blind to anything that challenges one’s bias—plays out so frequently in our severely polarised world that it doesn’t spare anyone—not even those who call themselves “liberal”. Yes, it’s known to happen, albeit less frequently.

Now, I reckon those who run the IT Cell certainly don’t believe in the concept of karma because they continue to do to others what they don’t want others to do to them.

But what goes around comes around—and often with greater force and intensity. And that’s what is beginning to happen. Social media has been gamed for too long by the RW but the LW is now fast catching up resulting in an overload of misinformation that is threatening to drown all critical thinking.

A recent case in point: A few days ago when Netaji’s portrait was unveiled in the Rashtrapati Bhavan, someone suggested it is not Netaji but actor Prasenjit who played Netaji in his biopic. Senior journalists like Rajdeep Sardesai and Barkha Dutt as well as astute politicians like Mahua Moitra fell for the misinformation and tweeted it out. Soon, scores of their followers as well as other celebs jumped on the bandwagon.

Unfortunately, the traditional correction mechanisms for misinformation in public discourse have been corrupted. Once the bedrock of credibility, the ubiquitous newspaper has lost its teeth and now frequently peddles misinformation. News channels have, by and large, become mouthpieces of the government, a privilege once reserved only for DD.

Yes, there are websites dedicated to busting fake news: altnews, smhoaxslayer, snopes, factchecker etc. But for every fake news busting website, there are a dozen or more propaganda websites that shamelessly peddle outright lies and manipulated facts. The propaganda websites have it easy because they know how to exploit our cognitive biases. The message in my WhatsApp group I shared above is a good example.

Such stories are what I call “authentic misinformation” and they present a unique challenge: no matter how convincingly one disputes propaganda stories, it appears authentic to those who want to believe it.

Authentic misinformation is a challenge indeed

You see, most of us are far too invested in our bubbles to consider breaking out of it. We are comfortable and secure in our world-view and consider anyone with a different view as a threat. Because of this, any attempt to prove a contrary point mostly backfires and hardens the opposing point-of-view even further. Using rhetoric worsens the situation and we reach a deadlock.

No wonder our bubbles are only becoming more and more airtight. And opaque too, thanks to echo chambers created by social media who profit from our biases. So we can shout ourselves hoarse trying to get our point across to those in a different bubble but our voice isn’t really reaching them.

For example, Modi’s fans are in a bubble in which all is well with Modi and there is always a perfectly plausible reason for all that is going wrong under his government. Try as you may, the vast majority of this segment will not be able find any fault with Modi—because his image is now part of their personal identities and no one likes their carefully weaved identity to be threatened with logic or facts. The easier thing for the brain to do is reject any information that challenges this identity.

What’s the way out?

So what can we do to deal with this phenomenon of authentic misinformation?

I think if we care for and are committed to truth, we ourselves must steer clear of it. For that, we need to be alert and aware of our own biases at all times and resist the temptation to be so cynical of the other that we begin to resemble them.

Of course, we must continue bust fake news whenever we can but also know that it is not enough. I think we need to find ways to build bridges; head-on confrontation never helps because our purpose isn’t to defeat the opponent who is often a friend, a neighbour, a relative or a simply a fellow citizen. Instead of taking a confrontational approach, we need push them (and ourselves) to think clearly and become aware of biases and prejudices that prevents seeing things clearly.

Would love to hear your thoughts…

Presenting the most powerful workshop ever!

Presenting the most powerful workshop ever!

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Front Cover of What a thought!
Front Cover

Back Cover of What a thought!
Back Cover

Another struggle for independence

Another struggle for independence

It’s hard to accept but our blood sucking politicians are a reflection of our collective attitude and mindset. We ought to stop accepting abuse of power and anarchy. A second “struggle” for freedom is needed—one that frees us from our own apathy, cowardice and passivity. Only when we’re freed this way can we ever become free from the greed of the current crop of politicians.

Politicians

Politicians

A filthy, appalling breed
that is sucking our nation dry
by their abysmal greed
while the rest of us cry

As long as they succeed
Mumbai will never be Shanghai
I think it’s only when they die
will we heave a collective sigh

Politicians and horror flicks

Politicians and horror flicks

Millions of ordinary citizens are sending SMSes to TV news channels expressing their shock, anger and other emotions at the recent terror attacks on Mumbai. Many of these SMSes are being telecast on tickers scrolling at the bottom of the screen.

One citizen’s SMS expressed helplessness asking: “When will our politicians wake up?”

I would like to answer this question: Never.

That is because, to wake up, you need to be asleep, not dead. Out politicians are actually dead. Their hearts don’t beat. They souls don’t feel sadness. Only dead people can react the way our politicians do.

In fact, now I am pretty certain that our politicians only shed crocodile tears whenever any terror strikes.

Dead people are supposed to be buried or cremated – but we see them freely roaming everywhere, especially on TV channels. No wonder our TV channels often resemble Hollywood horror flicks, atrocious looking dead men coming out of graves to “terrorise the neighbourhood”. Remember Michael Jackson’s Thriller video?

Mumbai attacks: the lethal combination of business, politics and religion

Mumbai attacks: the lethal combination of business, politics and religion

Rage, shock, disbelief, and hopelessness are some of the many emotions that we in Mumbai are experiencing right now. But we are also feeling helpless. What should we do in such a situation? Is there even a modicum of hope that we will emerge out of our vulnerability to face any crisis in the future?

It is indeed very sad that we can do little except live in fear and speculate about how our self-serving politicians, from ruling parties or otherwise, will use this to further their own utterly selfish agendas.

The problem is much more complex than apparent. And perhaps the root cause is the lethal combination of business, politics and religion. The financial crises, the terror attacks and lots of other grave issues we face today are the result of these three forces conspiring hand-in-glove.

I reckon that the world is a victim of the “business of politics” and the “politics of religion.” Notice that the common thread is politics. Yes, politics is no more than business for our politicians, who leave no prospect of raking in millions. These same politicians also use religion to terrorise the core human spirit. They design dirty divisive strategies just so that they can come to power and then abuse it to their advantage. What is tragic is that people fall victim to the ideologies of political and religious leaders who have nothing but their own self-interest in mind.

Whenever there is a crisis, our political leaders grab the opportunity to point fingers at their political rivals. Their holier-than-thou attitude is unbearably nauseatic. Every politician portrays himself as the son-of-the-soil who would lay down his life for the countrymen. But all they do is vote for more and more privileges for themselves. With top security for each of them, why would they bother about the security of the average citizen?

Unless we break up the unholy nexus between business, politics and religions, I see little hope for the average human being anywhere in the world.

No difference between politicians and terrorists

No difference between politicians and terrorists

Most politicians are no better than the terrorists. The only difference between terrorists and politicians is that while terrorists are victims of a kind, politicians are in fact the victimisers.

Spare a moment to think about the modus operandi of terrorists: their primary means of achieving their goals is to identify the vulnerability of the people and then exploit it. In the case of the Mumbai attack, the terrorists studied every vulnerable aspect of Mumbai and then used each of them effectively to terrorise us.

Our politicians too use every opportunity to exploit the people of the country. The vote-bank politics is a case-in-point. When BJP uses the Hindutva card, it is exploiting our country’s vulnerabilities. When MNS chief Raj Thakeray provokes Marathis against the north-Indians in Mumbai, he is very effectively misusing the susceptibility of the average unemployed Marathi residents of Maharashtra.

Every single politician in the country has consistently abused the vulnerabilities of the common man to their advantage. Then, can you see the similarity between terrorists and politicians?

Mumbai terrorised but NOT immobilised

Mumbai terrorised but NOT immobilised

The media, especially TV channels, must stop glamourising terrorism. I appeal to TV channels to stop spreading terror and report only facts, sans exaggeration. Mumbai has not been attacked. Only a few locations in South Mumbai has been attacked.

I feel a sense of tremendous anguish at the thought that the masterminds behind the attack on Taj, Oberoi and CST station must be celebrating their success, perhaps even rejoicing the killing of our top cops. But in spite of what’s happened, the truth is that Mumbai is normal. We citizens are shocked, yes. We are shaken, yes. But we are not immobilised. By repeatedly broadcasting “Mumbai Attacked”, we are only helping the cause of terrorists.

Their objective is to terrorise the whole world… why give them free advertising? We should, in fact, play it down.

It is also high time that we “ordinary” citizens step out and start an extraordinary movement against the incompetent and inept governance of this country. Collective action is the need of the hour. If we don’t do something soon, the self-serving politicians of this country will lead us into irrreparable destruction – not just of property but also of the human spirit.

Welcome to Sajjanpur is engaging

Welcome to Sajjanpur is engaging

I saw “Welcome to Sajjanpur” yesterday. I thought it was nice. Easy on the mind. The songs were totally unnecessary, otherwise it was pretty engaging.

Shreyas Talpade is brilliant in his portrayal of an educated rural young man who dreams of becoming a fiction writer someday. The character is basically a noble creature at heart, complete with ordinary human weaknesses. He is believable. So is Amrita Rao as a young married rural girl waiting for her husband to return from the city. Not at all glamorous, Amrita still looks beautiful and fresh.

The other cast and crew were OK. Ravi Kishen was at his irritating best. Ila Arun added to the irritation quotient of the film.

Through “Welcome to Sajjanpur” Shyam Benegal shows that you can make a film on an extremely simple story, without too much conflict and yet keep it engaging. Not among his best. But still pretty good.

Freedom from second-hand smoke

Freedom from second-hand smoke

India is far behind in the list of countries that have banned smoking in public places. But then, it is better to be late than never, especially when it concerns the health of millions.

I support the ban comprehensively. It is about time we took the dangers of passive smoking seriously. For those who believe that the ban is unfair, this is what I think: smokers can smoke as much as they want to – after all we live in a democracy and we have no right to object to an individual’s choice. But, the same individuals must respect a non-smoker’s choice too. I don’t smoke because I think it’s not for me. I am convinced that smoking harms me. Then why should I be subject to passive smoke? By smoking in public places, you force non-smokers to inhale the smoke. And that, mind you, is definitely unfair.

There are some who think that instead of banning smoking in public, there should be a ban on manufacture and sales of cigarettes – at least there won’t be a moral dilemma among smokers. It’s a democracy thing again – won’t we take away their right to smoke? Yet, we have banned drugs altogether, haven’t we? I reckon that if the government is so sure of smoking being injurious to health, it should ban it altogether.

But at least banning in public places is a good start. Let us enjoy freedom from second-hand smoke.