Kamala hails from Jammapudur, a village that lies at the foothills of the lush green Jawadhu Hills of Tamil Nadu. It is an interior village primarily inhabited by farmer families. Young and ambitious at 50, Kamala routinely goes on the field as part of her association with an NGO, where she works closely with the rural community. On one such occasion, she came across a group of women seated in a circle at a village house. The red and white banner neatly stuck to the wall indicated a FactShala training being hosted by Mary Glory Bai.
Ever since her association as a trainer with FactShala, Mary routinely visits the interior villages of Tamil Nadu, armed with FactShala tipsheets, educating people who have limited awareness of frauds, cybercrimes, sexual abuse, manipulation, and fake news with media literacy. On one of her visits, she arrived at Kamala’s village to conduct a media and information literacy workshop.
Kamala decided to attend the training and took a seat at the front. This choice proved to be fruitful as she had a revelation that misinformation and fake news are more common than she had ever imagined. Most importantly, Kamala learned that
“not everything we receive on social media or see on the internet is necessarily true as information and images can be easily manipulated”.
Kamala acknowledged the severity of the situation and felt a strong sense of responsibility to take forward her learnings to as many people as possible. Expressing her motivation, Kamala said,
“Mobile phones have reached the villages, but awareness of misinformation and media literacy has not”.
With the resolve to bring a positive change, Kamala set out to establish a healthier information ecosystem in her area.
As a kickoff point, she assembled a diverse group of villagers including youth, men, and women to share her learnings from the training. During the discussion, people candidly shared instances where they had been on the receiving end of various types of fraud. Some women in the village fell victim to a fraudulent scheme and gave their money to another woman who had promised to double their investment. However, they were deceived, losing a collective sum of around 40 lakhs. One of the women even attempted suicide once she realized she had been cheated off of her hard-earned money. Similarly, a man incurred a huge financial loss in his bank account when he unknowingly shared sensitive information during a fraudulent mobile call. Several youths in the village also admitted to losing their investment by sending money to a link and falling for a gaming-related scam.
These unfortunate instances in the villages highlight the harsh reality and the pressing need to establish an ecosystem of learning and verification, particularly in those areas where media literacy is lacking.
Kamala guided the villagers through the basic tools available on their mobile phones that they can use to verify the authenticity of any piece of information they receive or see on the internet. Using examples from Mary’s training, she demonstrated how messages and images are intentionally manipulated to trigger emotions and elicit extreme reactions. She also took out some time to make them understand the difference between news and opinion and cultivate critical thinking to respond to any kind of information.
Kamala is hopeful that as more people become aware of the basics of media literacy, the occurrences of people falling prey to the consequences of misinformation will decrease significantly. She encourages people to go forward and pass on their media literacy learnings to their friends and family, contributing to the creation of a healthier information ecosystem in the village.