FactShala Impact Stories

Through in-depth interviews with the trained respondents, some interesting impact stories emerged. This chapter features six stories which describe training participants’ ability to use and share their learning to protect themselves and their communities from misinformation and disinformation.

Story 1: Empowering tribals through media literacy

Jaskandih is a village located in PurbiSinghbhum district of Jharkhand, situated five km away from sub-district headquarters Golmuri-cum-Jugsalai and 16 km away from district headquarter Jamshedpur. The region is dominated by a tribal population. A short voice note popped up on the mobile phones of several residents of the village and quickly went viral across many villages in the area. The message was about a mob lynching that had not actually happened, but its circulation had led to violence and harmed many innocent people. Laxmi Munda, a 20-year-old tribal girl of the village, immediately swung into action.

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She sent a message to various WhatsApp groups informing members that the voice message had been verified through fact-checking and was fake. She also called up many people requesting them not to forward it further. Brought up in a large, low-income family, Laxmi loves to study and learn new skills so that she can transform the lives of people in her village. As a second-year B.A. student of LBSM College at Karandih, Laxmi heard about the FactShala program from Antara Bose, a journalist in the area who was organizing training for the people of Jaskindh and adjoining villages. “I learned in FactShala training program many techniques to identify misinformation and fake news, and how to check such information through authenticated websites. We were taught why we should not forward any message before verifying it,” says Laxmi. As a result of the training program, she became aware of fake news on social media and how it can harm the community. She decided to create awareness about the risks among people in her village and those nearby, and educate them about how to spot misinformation appearing on their mobile phones.

She explains:

People in my village are not very literate. They tend to believe whatever they read or hear from others or on social media. They don’t know how to differentiate between right and wrong information or understand the meaning of rumors and fake news. This led me to take the learnings from FactShala further and teach them how they need to consume messages coming from social media.

After the training, she organized a session on media literacy for 30-35 people in an adjoining village, Tupudang. It was attended by teenage girls, women of different age groups, and a few men. Laxmi conducted the training in Hindi and the local tribal dialect, using her mobile phone. She says,

Most of the villagers who participated in the training weren’t aware of the fact that wrong messages can also appear on their WhatsApp.

As part of the training, Laxmi gave them examples of posts which had recently circulated on their phones. For example, many people were getting WhatsApp messages which appeared to be from Kaun Banega Crorepati, the Indian version of the game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Recipients were told that if they shared these messages with 20 additional people and input their own bank details, they could claim attractive prizes. Laxmi explained to the trainees that they should not click or forward the links embedded in these messages. She shared the techniques she had learned from the FactShala training, warning the group to protect themselves from such scams and advising everyone not to share account details. She says,

Most of the people in my village and adjoining areas are innocent and not educated, so it will take more time and efforts to make them understand not to believe and share every message they receive.

She is so impressed and inspired by FactShala that she has also shared her newly acquired knowledge with friends and relatives. Laxmi says that this kind of training should be given regularly and cover other areas of her district. She says she will continue to create awareness among her community regardless of official support from initiatives like FactShala, and will remain an informed and empowered change-maker.

Story 2: Fact-checking can help curb social evils and crime

Neha Tiwari, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Mass Communication, Karim City College of Jamshedpur, has always been troubled by kidnappings, communal incidents, mob lynching and the killing of the women as part of witch-hunting in the Jharkhand state Neha has come to believe that one of the major drivers of these incidents in recent years was the spread of false information on WhatsApp and other social media and messaging platforms, reaching smartphone users who did not have the appropriate media literacy skills to sift through the information they received.

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When her department was approached by FactShala to organize training in fact-checking and debunking misinformation delivered by Jamshedpur-based journalist Antara Bose, Neha participated in order to equip herself and pass on the techniques to others. Karim City College is one of the oldest degree colleges in the state. It imparts education to an economically diverse range of students. Affiliated to Kolhan University, Chaibasa, this is the only college under the university that offers courses in mass communication. After attending the training program, Neha saw a pressing need to take the initiative further and reach more people. She felt that building media literacy among the people of the region could reduce violence and tension. Neha says,

As a part of the mass communication community, I always feel concerned about the falling creditability of various media due to prevalent spread of fake news.

She has proposed the creation of a ‘fact-checking wing’ in the college. Here students with basic knowledge about social media will be trained to fact-check a range of news items, including those focused on education, history, political and cultural issues that frequently appear on social media or websites.

These selected groups will fact check the type of information which does rounds online and impacts people’s lives,

Neha explained.
They will,

identify viral or suspicious stories circulating on social media platforms, fact check them, and then circulate the results among various WhatsApp groups. In addition, the group will also track correct information on the issue and will share the same on their college network. For tracking factual information, we plan to collaborate with local media houses and willtry to get a small column daily where they can post fact-checked information. The proposed wing is scheduled to be launched in September 2021 when the college will reopen.

We are planning to begin first at the college level then will expand it to the university level, and if it succeeds will extend it to the general public. By reaching out to 3,000 students at the college level, they will also be reaching out to their families and contacts, thereby reaching out to a bigger set of people. At the university level, this number will multiply further.

Neha is passionate about the idea and confident of getting permission. She intends to engage various organisations who may be willing to have fact-checked information disseminated through their WhatsApp groups. Neha says that private companies like the Tata group also may also be approached to reach out to a large section of society. While explaining the motivation behind her commitment to stop spreading the misand disinformation, she says,

News should be something real and trustworthy, so the combination of these two terms — ‘mis and disinformation’ — are very questionable.

In addition, she says that the faculty and students all feel bad when people look down upon media coverage and hold them accountable for it. They feel a responsibility to build trust in credible media. Neha invites other experts to join her as mentors. She hopes that FactShala can give advanced training to the students who will staff the wing.

Story 3: From fake news believer to misinformation buster

UzmaAlam, a social worker based in Kolkata, used to share every message that she received on her WhatsApp. As someone working in an organization dedicated to social good, she believed it was her duty to spread information that appeared convincing or beneficial to as many people as possible. It never occurred to her that such information could be incorrect or fake. The 40-year-old works as the convener of Calcutta Muslim Orphanage and also runs a small NGO. The orphanage shelters around 400 boys and girls between five and 17 years old. Uzma felt that the use of mobile phones amongst older children in the shelter home was affecting their personal and social lives because of the deluge of misinformation and fake news. In 2020, Uzma participated in a program of FactShala organised for NGOs. It was delivered by Ghazala Yasmin, Assistant Professor at the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, Aliah University, Kolkata.

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Uzma says the training made her aware how unverified information does not benefit anyone but can also be harmful to many people if it is widely shared. She also learned how to verify information and check the authenticity of URLs shared in forwarded messages. She was so inspired by the tools and techniques available that she decided to train children in the orphanage. Uzma now admits that she used to share many posts related to religion, mob lynching and other topics which later turned out to be false. She recalls many instances when she had fallen for fake news and inaccurate information. Several times, she was alerted that the news she shared was fake, and then she should take it off her timeline. Her trainer Ghazala credits Uzma: “She has become a crusader for stopping others in spreading the fake news.” The training program has impacted on her behavior. She feels more confident in navigating the information ecosystem. Now if she finds someone posting false information, she alerts the person immediately.

She no longer shares or forwards any message which is not verified or where the source is unknown. If she receives a message or news which does not have an authentic URL in it, she asks the sender for it. Uzma feels that the FactShala training has made her more responsible in handling information online and has equipped her to role model critical engagement within her social group.

Story 4: A gatekeeper of misinformation

Karishma Choudhary a 23-year-old postgraduate Geology student was an intern in Radio Kamalvaani 90.4 FM, a community radio station in Jhunjhunu, Rajasthan. During her internship, a radio program on media literacy on misinformation and fake news was aired for their local audiences, aiming to empower them with approaches and skills to consume information critically, especially online. Karishma was responsible for producing the program. This gave her the opportunity to research the many harmful effects of misinformation as well as available fact-checking techniques.

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She wasable to tap the expertise of Dr. Sangita Choudhary, who is both Program Lead at the DataLEADS Foundation and Station Head of Radio Kamalvani. Karishma is now a local advocate for the importance of media and information literacy, and she seeks to limit the spread of mis- and disinformation in her own networks, both online and offline. She has become very cautious about information she receives. She is wary of URLs and always checks the domain name carefully before clicking on any links. She says that she tends not to trust information she comes across unless she is able to verify it. In relation to social media, she says, “Whenever any of my friends puts up a story or post that turns out to be fake, I immediately inform them and ask them to delete it.” Recently, one of her friends posted a story about Delhi airport being sealed due to the spread of the second variant of COVID-19. Karishma took a screenshot of the post and image and checked it on Google reverse image tool. She found that the image was old and was not Delhi airport. She immediately informed her friend and asked her to delete the post and replace it with another informing people that the previously shared post was fake. Karishma also told her friend to avoid sharing such news without first verifying it as it could create unnecessary panic. Karishma also observes that people aren’t easily convinced that information is fake and sometimes ignore others who call it out. But screenshots of fact-checked proof can be persuasive. Another challenge she shares is that people can be more susceptible to scams and misinformation because of low levels of literacy and lack of education.
She makes it a point to educate everyone in her network on the issue, and aims to play a role in curbing the spread of false news and its negative impacts. She says, “In the rural areas, and especially the women there, are mostly illiterate and often become a cause in aiding the spread of misinformation via gossip, etc. Their only source of information is a word of mouth and informal discussions which take place with other women of the village. They are not much aware of the authenticity of the information and have no means of verification of the information they hear, so information keeps on spreading due to their conversations. Unknowingly they become a key point of dissemination of false information if it reaches them.” However, Karishma also realizes that both educated and uneducated people forward information without thinking about its authenticity. Karishma has become the fact-checking champion for all her friends and relatives. She tells others to take action to stop the spread of misinformation by identifying it and asking people to stop sharing it.

Story 5: Creating Awareness through WhatsApp groups

In more than six districts of North Bengal, WhatsApp groups have been formed comprising of students, teachers, workers, house makers, men, and women who sift through and debunk the fake news and misinformation spreading in their networks to protect the public from its harmful effects.

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Tuhin Mandal, a former school teacher and activist in West Bengal, had attended a FactShala training in Bilaspur conducted by journalist Soma Basu. Beforehand, Tuhin would share messages and posts received on social media platforms without thinking about their impacts. FactShala marked a turning point in Tuhin’s life. It made him understand the urgency of the situation and he formed WhatsApp groups in North Bilaspur, Cooch Bihar, Jalpaiguri, and Malda to create awareness among different communities about handling information disseminated through social media and messaging platforms. He wanted to have a wider impact. He started posting messages about information verification techniques. He wanted to help spread awareness at the same speed that mis- and disinformation travel. He says, “If you don’t know what’s right and what’s wrong, which one is real news and which are fake news, then it’s highly risky to spread it further in the form of rumors all over. I got to know this and learned that how to check the real news and fake news, from the FactShala training. I found that it’s a valuable thing that everyone should know about and therefore I started working on it and got motivated to create awareness among other people about misinformation.”

Tuhin is also a social worker and runs a magazine focused on environmental issues in Uttar Patra in Bilaspur district North Bengal. He plans to write about and publicize FactShala. Whenever Tuhin has the opportunity to engage with people online or face to face, he aims to share what he has learned. He feels that young children should be taught about these issues so that they can build resilience for the future.

Story 6: National Youth Volunteer Advocates Fact-checking

Prashant Kumar is a 24-year-old resident of Baghpat, Uttar Pradesh who participated in FactShala in 2020 and has helped spread the tools and techniques he learned about to at least 500 other people. He has achieved this in collaboration with FactShala trainer Gaurav Sharma, a Meerutbased fact-checker, researcher, and journalist.

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Prashant first attended face-to-face training in Dahula Gaon, Baghpat, Uttar Pradesh. There he learned about fact-checking websites and how the authenticity of a piece of information can be checked with a simple search on Google. Prashant supported Sharma to conduct further face-to-face training in Baghpat, with diverse groups comprising friends, relatives, networks of volunteers, school teachers, students, older people and community members. He helped to identify the trainees and encourage them to participate. Prashant is the National Youth Volunteer of Nehru Yuva Kendra (NYK) in Baghpat. This Kendra has many volunteers between the age of 15-29 years. As part of his efforts to curb the spread of misinformation, he works with 8 or 9 other NYK members to fact check unverified news or information in circulation on social media and messaging apps. They use the NYK WhatsApp group to raise awareness and distribute corrections amongst the 150 members.