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.