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.