Manan Kapoor, on living in a post-truth world and how the founder of AltNews is tackling the issue by debunking fake news, one story at a time
The Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year 2016 was ‘post-truth’ after the peripheral term became one of the most used words, especially when it came to politics. Even though it had been in use for almost a decade, the word has come into regular usage after the dawn of an age where the credibility of sources was in question. In a post-truth world where anyone can cherry-pick information to back the opinions that comfort their opinions, it gets difficult to trust where the truth actually lies. It popularised especially after Donald Trump’s campaign, with the rise of news sources such as Breitbart, and the pathological lies of the alt-right in the United States.
But Pratik Sinha believes that a similar situation had been stirring in India even before Donald Trump had come into picture. While writers such as Rana Ayyub had been critiquing the right-wing, there were only a few news platforms that were working towards debunking the myths that were being used as propaganda by BJP. In February 2017, Alt News was founded by Pratik Sinha, a software engineer based in Ahmedabad, and the admin of Unofficial: Subramanian Swamy. Sinha was a software engineer and quit his job to focus on his initiative. His parents, Mukul and Nirjhari Sinha, founded the Jan Sangharsh Manch. Mukul Sinha, a Senior Advocate and Trade Union Leader, and his wife, Nirjhari Sinha, fought to expose the complicity of Narendra Modi, his ministers, and police in the communal pogrom of 2002.
Alt News is a website, that plans to be an anti-propaganda site and act as an antidote to the right-wing propagandists that have established themselves in the mainstream media. Their main focus is on the news that the mainstream media refuses to report on their channels. Through the website, they plan to cover the various public policies, religious discriminations, and caste-based atrocities and their implications.
Between December 2015 and February 2016, his posts were banned three times by Facebook under violation of the company’s ‘community standards’. Sinha has been critical of the ruling party and the propaganda through which they are functioning.
Altnews’ foundations are in facts. Every article that has been posted on the website are backed by facts that point towards the ruthless, yet sincere approach towards the endeavour. The website does not have an ideological inclination and simply stands left of centre. It uses facts to counter the information that is spread by various websites and is growing rapidly. In only about three months, there have been more than 14,000 likes on their Facebook page, and over 2 million views on the website. “It isn’t the hard work that has been put in over the past three months that is paying off,” says Sinha, “but a process that has been going on for over four years. ” He is also the founder of a website called Truth of Gujarat whose primary focus is on the 2002 riots and the ‘fake encounters’ in the state.
The post-truth reality is not formed out of a vacuum, it exists within a structure which enables it, reproduces it, and guards it against tendencies which try and delegitimise it. And like any other question it cannot be tackled in isolation. Altnews believes that the only way to stop propaganda, and to educate people about the inauthenticity of their sources is counter-propaganda. They have collected the phone numbers of over seven hundred people till now, and send them messages through Whatsapp. whenever an article is posted. Altnews believes that this is the only option to fight the forces that are focused on spreading inaccurate information through social media and by the means of propaganda. “On a medium like whatsapp, every message is encrypted. It not only makes it a private conversation, but also unregulated. And anything that is being spread through these mediums is propaganda. In order to fight that counter-propaganda is required,” says Sinha.
They recently published an article that revealed the truths behind various rumours that had been published by hindutva.info, a website that is ranked 1229 in terms of traffic according to Alexa in India. The website had been spreading baseless information that Ravish Kumar’s sister has been suspended due to corruption charges, and that there has been a fatwa against Zee News’ Rohit Sardana. Altnews has also reported about other such websites like postcard.news.
Pratik Sinha and Sam Jawed (pen name) have been unfurling the truths regarding these websites and the disinformation. Altnews isn’t doing anything except pointing towards the elephant in the room. In a post-truth world: Not one where the truth no longer matters, it does, but one where to simply resist error, eliminate ignorance and fight lies takes courage, websites like Altnews and Truth Of Gujarat are serving as agents of information to provide the public with facts, not fiction.
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