With the arrival of the monsoon, false weather updates have started making the rounds. How do we spot the fakes?
It’s not uncommon for fake updates, tampered photographs and unauthentic videos to go viral. We all have received and forwarded our fair share of false information. From news of India winning the best national anthem award from UNESCO to the famous photograph of the country clicked on Diwali night and published by NASA, there isn’t a dearth of fake information. While sometimes these messages can be harmless, during a crisis, they can be dangerous as they hinder the decision-making process.
One sees an increase in such messages during the monsoon. After the first rains, commuting becomes a task because of water logging, delayed trains and chock-a-block traffic jams. Hence, when one receives a forecast about heavy rains, no matter the source of the information, we tend to believe it. However, most of the time, these messages have no basis in reality. They stem from unverified sources and gain traction because of panic-stricken forwarding.
Talking about these fake weather updates, K.S. Hosalikar, scientist and deputy director general of the India Meteorological Department, says, “Social media is a very useful communication tool through which millions of people can be connected within no time. It is one of the best available tools; it is free and easily accessible and has to be used carefully. Many times people forward such messages without verifying them, which becomes the problem.”
And as people keep forwarding such messages it reaches a large number of people in a short amount of time. Often, these fake weather forecasts recycle old incidents and spread fear anew. Narrating his own experience, Mr Hosalikar says, “I recently saw a message about Mekunu cyclone which went through the Gulf of Aden a long time ago. A lot of messages said that it was developing near Goa. Interestingly, every season, during the monsoon, this happens or whenever the weather conditions are severe. Often, a past weather condition is referred to.”
There are also false updates about traffic jams and roadblocks. Messages claiming that certain roads have been blocked circulate among citizens causing panic. Amitesh Kumar, joint commissioner of police (traffic) is aware about such fake messages. He says, “The moment we come to know about such messages, we ourselves clarify them on various platforms. We are very active and counteract any message that comes to our notice.” The Mumbai police is known to be very active on Twitter and it is one of the best platforms to cross check any traffic-related queries. It’s always better to verify information with a reliable source before sharing it among friends and family.
“The best way to verify information is by referring to the Mumbai police Twitter handle or from the MTP (Mumbai traffic police) app or the MTP helpline number. The MTP helpline has a one-on-one communication system. People can WhatsaApp us too, and we will reply via the app,” says Amitesh. However, to weed out fake information, police personnel rely on citizens’ complaints about fake updates and videos. Deepak Deoraj, deputy commissioner of police, says, “If we receive complaints, only then can we work towards them. People need to tells us if they receive fake messages, only then we can help.”
Well, Mumbaikars, it’s time to be vigilant, for the good of others and ourselves