Any information is an addition to a person’s store of knowledge irrespective of its kind, nature and fall out. It may be of the nature of addition, feedback/response to a query or directive to conduct in a given situation.
To inform and be informed means life. To remain informed has ever remained the quest of people; to navigate the sea of life and harbour safe from the results of the information around.
Timeliness, way of expression and mode of transmission make its utility. The information not handled correctly gives rise to two forms of information commonly known as misinformation and disinformation. The two words though used for one another in common parlance have a difference of intent.
While misinformation is spreading wrong information one does not know it to be wrong, transmission of deliberate subvention of facts to mislead the listener or the recipient makes a case of disinformation.
Misinformation is a kind of wrong information and disinformation reverse information or anti-information. It is a common and powerful tool now of espionage, exploitation and propaganda to reverse or mar the individual, group, institutional and country level interests.
It is an amphibious aircraft with amphibious demonstration causing or capable of unleashing a political cataclysm in the man made world of affairs. That is why infodemic of false information that spreads or has spread rapidly throughout the world makes solutions to the problems more difficult to achieve.
It may be for good and bad natural events also like much awaited rains after a long dry spell, weather improvement after heavy rains or snowfall & cold waves, caution against floods, tsunamis, droughts, gale, storm, blizzard or hurricane, endemic or pandemic etc.
Sometimes disclosure and passing on of an even true information is dangerous in a particular set of circumstances where withholding or delaying of that is wisdom to ward off social or some other upheavals.
The spreading of the two types of information is one of the incidents of human behavior forming part of its culture and history. In the absence of the relevant developed technology they were much localized effecting a minuscule percentage of the population of the part of the world and that too belatedly.
Print media too was limited in number & coverage, besides being slow in communication. It nonetheless had edge to hold or mould public and government opinion. Books, periodicals, journals and pamphlets were the other source for communication.
Under such scenario many of the targeted masses would suffer much till the information reached them and many an unwholesome event even got avoided as well. Wherever and whenever possible people assembled to propagate with them.
However, with the advent of advanced means of information & communication technology the dissemination of information remains just a click and a few seconds away from the recipient destination to stabilise, destabalise or to reinforce the status quo there.
The two words, each consisting of fourteen letters, beginning with ‘m’ and ‘d’ make a sea of difference. Misinformation as omission and the disinformation as commission. One pardonable and the other as culpable offence cognizable for legal action under relevant rules & regulations.
Chances of misinformation and disinformation deliberately or otherwise cannot be ruled out from any quarter, individual, group, or institution, big or small, private or public.
For this potentiality the contents and the mailing of the information has assumed higher & greater importance than before lest it should tend to or cause to tend to misinformation or disinformation.
With the advent of electronic, digital, audio & visual, web portals, face-book, social media and other devices every two persons have become speaker and the listeners, consignor and the consignees, orator and the audience of the information which shape the public discourse either way beneficial or detrimental to public in general.
Social media which occupies the largest seat of mutual interaction & communication now has ipso facto turned to be a considerable trend setter to effect decision making apparatus and the executive machinery across the globe.
The electronic and the print media having a penetrative watch over daily occurrences with quick transmission of these into news and information in impressive, emotive and attractively appealing manner are in a steering position to drive to a particular conclusion.
However, the multiplicity of diverse sources of communication airing news & views in their own way of expression leave scope for interpretation different from what the sources mean to offer.
No doubt spread of fake news and information not only deceives the believers but also belies the credibility & integrity and undermines the roots of the fake news tools. Still all being concerned with news and information on daily matters in one way or the other, fake news and the reverse information sell like hot cakes among the gullible.
There is a divine guidance in the holy book; Surah No.49, titled Hujuraat (The Private Apartments) under Aayat No. 6. It reads, “ O ye who believe! If an evildoer brings you tidings, verify it, lest ye smite some folk in ignorance and afterward repent of what you did”.
Common sense too asks not to pass on any information of which one is not clear or forwarding of which is fraught with giving rise to any kind of turbulent situation.
The episodes of fake news, wrong and the reverse information stretched so much that it became too pressing for the governments in the world to admit of delay for imposing restraint.
Resultantly the scope and coverage of relevant laws & regulations was widened by either amending the existing laws & rules or bringing in new ones to combat the menace of false and anti-information.
The role of information giving and news reporting organs like information & broadcasting, press & printing, social and electronic media also has increased to stop fake news and information and promote news literacy, professional journalism, unbiased & neutral media fraternity to build public trust.
The police and intelligence agencies too have their due part to play in ensuring innocuous flow of information as presentation sometimes matters more than the real content.
In a democratic set up spread of fake news & information is a challenge and problem both for the public and the government which are to handle the delicate issue tactfully as bonafides are also to be respected.
However, the matter being characterized with wide openness, Governments alone cannot prove a complete success unless supported by its masses as one sparrow does not make a true & complete summer.
A critical analysis and appreciation of any news, print, audio, visual material that comes across is required before formulating an opinion to pass it on as news or knowledge material. Knowing authenticity of source, correctness, time of information, transmission of original and complete contents may be the leading parameters to guide and be guided to a right path.
The author is a former Sr. Audit Officer and Consultant in the A.G’s Office Srinagar.