Rana Ayyub: “Misinformation threatens to be the new ‘true information'”

Why should people attend the Nobel Prize Summit Truth, Trust and Hope this May? Indian investigative journalist, Rana Ayyub, who will be joining us for the summit, warns why it is a now or never moment.

Why has misinformation and disinformation become such a problem at this moment in time? 

“Misinformation and disinformation have become the driving force behind the rise of demagogues, strongmen and fascists. From India to the United States, Russia to the Philippines, fake news, propaganda, and morphed images are being used to discredit critics, dissenters, human rights activists and the opposition.

And, I must say, it has been extremely successful in that regard. As a journalist from India, who has been at the receiving end of the worst kind of fake news about me, my family, and my work, where the top search for a Google search related to me will most likely throw up results from a propaganda website, disinformation has blurred the line between truth and fiction. Demagogues and dictators have learned from each other that a lie, when repeated a thousand times, becomes the new reality.

Rana Ayyub
Courtesy of Rana Ayyub

Twitter trends, TikTok videos, Instagram reels, Facebook posts, and WhatsApp forwards might have democratised the spaces of communication, but they have also become the most potent platforms to disseminate fake news. As technology continues to advance, the war against misinformation and fake news ironically gets tougher for the world.

Misinformation threatens to be the new ‘true information’ as it aids and enables the most anti-democratic values.” 

Why should people attend the Nobel Prize Summit Truth, Trust and Hope this May? 

“It has never been more important in the history of humankind for the world to acknowledge that we are facing a problem that has the potential to change the world order for the worse. Fake news takes lives, disinformation is fuelling wars, pogroms and aiding genocidal tendencies in some of the most robust democracies.

Never has it been more urgent for the world to hear stories that have been destroyed by propaganda. Those attending Truth, Trust, and Hope this May need to be prepared to deal with some uncomfortable truths.

They need to hear unpopular opinions if they indeed do care about human rights, civil liberties, and an idea we cherish, an idea we call democracy.”

How has misinformation and disinformation affected your work as a journalist? 

“As I said in my previous answer, if you look me up on a search engine, the top results might be articles from propaganda websites. I have been at the receiving end of disinformation from both state and non-state actors whose agenda is to discredit me and by extension my journalism that exposes their fascist tendencies.

My image has been morphed in a porn video and circulated all over the internet, including the fan pages of the ruling government leaders. Spokespersons of the ruling government in India have spread the vilest fake news and misinformation about me and my family members. As a woman, as a Muslim woman, a critic, I have seen the worst of social media trends and disinformation. An ICFJ study recently revealed that I am attacked online every 19 seconds.

The fake news about the multiple cases filed against me by the government because of my journalism threatens to erase my truth and reality.

That is why I speak, I speak not just for the truth, but for the marginalised, the minorities in India who have been demonised and vilified by disinformation.” 

What can journalists and media owners do to help restore trust in news information sites? 

“If I speak of the Indian context, some of India’s leading news channels have carried disinformation with impunity. During the first and second wave of Covid 19 in India, when the country was ravaged by the virus, news channels in the country ran a propaganda called ‘Covid-Jihad.’ That Muslims in India were spreading Covid as a form of Jihad, that they were spitting on nurses.

This was the headline on leading Indian news channels, and despite being fact-checked, none of them apologised. Various fact checking websites in India are trying their best to bust fake news but in a country where disinformation becomes the reality on WhatsApp forwards, fact checked truth has few takers. By the time a fact checking website busts a fake narrative, news channels in the country would have already made it a reality.

The only way media owners can restore trust in news information sites is by reporting facts as they are and not agendas as fed by the governments of the day.”

With recent developments in digital platforms (such as changes in rules of Twitter) and the rise of AI (such as Chat GPT) in generating information for web, what is the future of the role of technologies in journalism?  

“Whether we like it or not, platforms like Twitter democratised the space for unpopular news and independent journalism. Many journalists in the world who have been silenced by their respective publications and governments found Twitter as a platform to inform and bring a change in public opinion.

But with the drastic change in Twitter policies, often prostrating to the diktats of powerful governments, for example Twitter removed tweets that posted the BBC documentary critical of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But at the same time, rape, death threats, fake news continued to trend.

The future ahead does not look very promising.”

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Interview published May 2023

To cite this section
MLA style: Rana Ayyub: “Misinformation threatens to be the new ‘true information'”. NobelPrize.org. Nobel Prize Outreach AB 2023. Thu. 30 Nov 2023. <https://www.nobelprize.org/rana-ayyub-misinformation-threatens-to-be-the-new-true-information/>

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