Alt News co-founder Pratik Sinha on the fake-news ecosystem in India

08 March 2019
Courtesy Pratik Sinha
Courtesy Pratik Sinha

Pratik Sinha is a software engineer by training, with a specialisation in wireless and embedded systems. Two years ago, he co-founded Alt News, one of India’s only fact-checking portals at the time. He has since become a key figure in the social-media age of news.

In February this year, Tushar Dhara, a reporting fellow at The Caravan, interviewed Sinha about the crisis of misinformation and the kind of fake news that goes viral in India. Sinha also spoke about the process of fact checking at Alt News and the steps that Facebook is taking to combat the spread of misinformation. In the context of the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, he observed, “We cannot stop bad actors from pushing out misinformation, you can only control the velocity.”

Tushar Dhara: Can you describe the evolution of the fake-news ecosystem in India?
Pratik Sinha: The right wing organised themselves on social media much before any political party [with a different ideological leaning]. The only other political party that organised themselves on social media prior to the 2014 general election was the AAP [Aam Aadmi Party]. When you organise yourself on social media, you have a network of people you can reach out to.

Back in 2013–14, there were multiple factoids and pictures on social media saying, “This is Gujarat,” “That is Gujarat,” because the Gujarat model was the focal point. For instance, what was claimed to be the Ahmedabad BRT [Bus Rapid Transit system] was a picture from China. Back then, because the right wing was better organised, there was more disinformation coming from that part of the ideological spectrum.

Tushar Dhara is a reporting fellow with The Caravan. He has previously worked with Bloomberg News, Indian Express and Firstpost and as a mazdoor with the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan in Rajasthan.

Keywords: Elections 2019 misinformation fake news Facebook WhatsApp Cambridge Analytica Pratik Sinha Postcard News fact checking Bharatiya Janata Party twitter Alt News Congress