Combating fake news by using the principle of herd immunity

The menace of fake news is now a widely accepted phenomenon. The internet, which is a vehicle of progress and holds promise of opportunities to billions of users, is now interspersed with fake news and sub-standard articles. This seemingly true looking, highly non-discernible fake news is a challenge to the sanctity of the internet and is one of the greatest threat to this vehicle of progress. Interestingly technologies which were tools for designers like Photoshop, video editing tools and not to mention Artificial Intelligence which apart from being used to make wonderful tools for mankind are being used to produce more and more realistic looking fake news day by day. Not only that algorithms of websites like the Facebook is being exploited to ensure fake news articles are well targeted and get the widest attention. The consequences are varied with different levels of intensity. At the individual level, it is leading to depressions, false reasoning, and radicalization. At higher levels consequences are taking an intense turn like mob lynching, riots and recently at the national level it resulted in false propaganda and radical election results. Eminent personalities, world leaders, state, civil societies, individuals- everyone has acknowledged the presence of fake news and the damage it is inflicting on people lives. Now the question is how can we combat this issue?

A lecture in my recent science class hit me with this idea which can be a probable solution to this issue. My science teacher was trying to explain how a high resistance is offered to the spread of a contagious disease within a population, if a sufficiently high proportion of individuals are immune to the disease, especially through vaccination. He referred to the principle as herd immunity. The idea is simple. If suppose a community consists of three individuals A, B and C, among whom A and B are vaccinated against polio, the chances of C getting polio virus is drastically reduced. This is because A and B who are vaccinated act as death chamber to polio virus circulating in the community and thereby decreasing the chances of C getting infected by the virus. Now suppose instead of polio virus we as a community have to combat fake news. What required is we as a member of the community acting as death chamber to the fake news article. For this, we have to vet every news article that seems suspicious and report it so that such articles are removed. Rather than casually sharing every pleasing article that comes across us, we must ensure we have done some background check so that we are certain about the credibility of whatever we share online. When we perform such checks, it ensures such article is prevented from spreading and an individual or a society as a whole is saved from the consequences.  Seems like a lot of work given the variety and intensity of spreading fake news articles. But let’s face it- the internet as we use today became a resource by the contribution of not few people but millions of people. And we as a responsible user of the internet should ensure this repository is not spoiled and it does not end up being used as a tool against humanity and principles we stand for. Let us work together to redeem what we believe is the original purpose of the internet.

Recall vs Reason- a powerful technique to avoid silly mistakes


I recently gave an MCQ based test in which I marked a known question wrong. Silly mistake. Later when I came home, I sat down and started thinking why I marked the wrong answer. I realized that the question although similar to what I read earlier had a twist and I didn’t notice it. If only I would have applied my reasoning faculty instead of just recalling what I learned earlier, I would have saved myself from the error. And from that instant I have been applying what I call as the doctrine of “Recall vs Reason”. In the following paragraphs, I’m going to talk about the same.
Our brain is capable of storing information in the form of depressions or ridge called gyri and sulci. When we revise what we read such depressions are reaffirmed and hence we are able to recall it for a longer duration. Recalling is not the only function that the brain performs. Another important function that the brain performs is the reasoning function. This important function is what gets overlooked and silly mistakes occur. Had I at that instant used my brain not only to recall but also to reason, so as to arrive at a proper answer, the mistake would have been avoided.

There is one more advantage (apart from several others) which I obtain from using this principle of recall and reason. Whenever I am in a situation where I can follow some quotes or wisdom that I read earlier I always try first to reason on its application. The benefits are two folds. One it helps to bring changes as required in the application. Second, it shifts the responsibility on us as we can’t point our finger to someone who told us to do so because at the end it was not blindly followed or coerced. In the Bhagwad Gita Lord Krishna himself profess to Arjuna that he should not just follow what is being told to him blindly. He should use his mind and make it his own.
So next time make sure you reason with anything that your brain recalls before you apply it to something. Let me know your thoughts on this.