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Communications of the ACM

India Region Special Section: Hot Topics

Fake News in India: Scale, Diversity, Solution, and Opportunities

man reading a newspaper with a back page ad on fighting false information

Credit: Time

India witnessed a 214% rise in cases relating to fake news in the pandemic year of 2019.a There were numerous events across the country that were affected. For instance, during the 2016 Indian banknote demonetization, multiple fake news reports about spying technology added to the banknotes went viral.b Around 5,000 social media handles were suspended by Indian security and intelligence agencies during the CAA protests.c The dissemination of fake content via WhatsApp was prevalent during India's 2019 general election.d The proliferation of fake news in India is massive, and there is a dire need to consider solutions explicitly catering to this region.

India is a nation that realizes unity in diversity. Indians follow different religions, practice different customs and traditions, and speak diverse languages.e These factors and others make it difficult to detect fake news in India. More specifically, we observe the following:

  • Multilinguality. Mother tongue of Indians is diverse. There are 22 official languages and only 10.67% of the population converse in English.f The current fake news detection solutions are most effective for English and might fail to identify and process information in other languages.
  • Instant messaging platform. We cannot undermine WhatsApp's role in forming and mobilizing the online public. Since WhatsApp is end-to-end encrypted, identifying and quashing false stories is possible only with support of the users.
  • Digital illiteracy. In India, the surge in the Internet penetration accompanied by digital illiteracy has resulted in the rise of fake news online.4 Internet penetration in India has risen from 137 million Internet users in 2012 to over 600 million in 2019.g Though audiences have access to information, their inability to comprehend the nuances and implications of fake news has resulted in the growth of fake news dissemination in the online world.


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