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What drives fake news in India? Here’s what a BBC study found out

Since May this year, at least 30 people have been killed in India in mob violence over rumours circulating on messaging service WhatsApp and other social media platforms.

Updated: Nov 12, 2018 08:23:04

By Vidhi Choudhary

A study done by the BBC World Service Group, titled ‘Beyond Fake News’, used multiple methods to understand the circulation of fake news in India. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Fake news messages centering on the ideas of nationalism and nation-building are shared widely in the India without concrete attempts at fact-checking, according to a study done by the BBC World Service Group, the global news content division of the UK’s British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).

The report, titled ‘Beyond Fake News’, used multiple methods to understand the circulation of fake news, including the analysis of 16,000 Twitter profiles and 3,200 Facebook pages, in-depth interviews and the analysis of WhatsApp messages shared by 40 respondents.

“In India the young people are also identifying along nationalistic lines, and this is driving their sharing behaviour as much as it is the older generation,” according to the research that is part of BBC’s Beyond Fake News Project. For the purpose of the study, nationalism was defined in two parts. One was derived from Hindu nationalism and the other from the idea of nationalist pride in India’s progress, as per the research team at BBC.

“In India people are reluctant to share messages which they think might incite violence, but feel duty bound to share nationalistic messages,” the report said. “In sharing these messages, people feel like they are nation building,” stated the qualitative study conducted for India. The study was also carried out across Kenya and Nigeria.



Since May this year, at least 30 people have been killed in India in mob violence over rumours circulating on messaging service WhatsApp and other social media platforms. While WhatsApp, a private messaging service owned by Facebook, has more than 200 million users in India, Facebook is used by 217 million people every month in India.

Jamie Angus, director of the BBC World Service Group, said: “Whilst most discussion in the media has focused on ‘fake news’ in the West, this piece of research gives strong evidence that a serious set of problems are emerging in the rest of the world where the idea of nation-building is trumping the truth when it comes to sharing stories on social media.”

Santanu Chakrabarti, head of audience research, BBC World Service, said the focus of the study was ordinary citizen. “At the heart of this research is the question of why ordinary people are sharing fake news, even while they claim to be worried about the way fake stories spread. This report combines in-depth qualitative and ethnographic techniques with digital network analysis and big data techniques to explore the fake news phenomenon in India, Kenya, and Nigeria from multiple angles,” he said.

First Published: Nov 12, 2018 08:12:26

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