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.
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.