NEW DELHI: The danger of fake news is real and India is a huge market for it which is only growing.
An investigation by Hindustan Times revealed that regional language social media platforms such as ShareChat and Helo are rife with fake news and hate speeches with political propaganda.
ShareChat is only a three-year-old Bengaluru-based startup with 50 million registered users is now valued at $500 million. Whereas Helo backed by the Chinese internet conglomerate ByteDance have at least 5 million estimated registered users.
According to Bloomberg, the group that also owns short-video social platform Tik Tok and news aggregator Toutiao heading towards a total valuation of around $75 billion.
Both the app support 14 regional Indian languages. The two and three tier cities make up a large chunk of ShareChat voters.
ShareChat is the largest regional-language social networking platform in the country. The app that began as a portal for locally popular content like prayers, Bollywood gossip, and humorous quotes now littered with clearly dangerous piece of misinformation mostly in Hindi, Bengali and Kannada.
On ShareChat Hindi, the app has a fake news posted on November 9, that read as the top ‘trending’ post under ‘news’, i.e; “Terrorist Zakir Naik said he will return to India when the Congress government is in power. So Congress supports terrorists?”
The post was viewed by at least 15,000 users as of November 13. In reality, the founder of Peace TV, never made such a statement and the piece of news was a fake.
Not only political leaders, Bollywood celebrities too declare their political affiliation in the ShareChat-Helo universe. In a ShareChat post, actor Rani Mukherjee is asking, “How can I vote for the Congress, the party which called Lord Rama and his devotees a terrorist in 2009.” And for the Congress in Madhya Pradesh, Katrina Kaif will campaign.
Politicians including Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis, Chattisgarh CM Raman Singh, Delhi BJP leader Manoj Tiwari are increasingly turning to the platform to promote their messages. HT found dozens of verified accounts of these politicians on ShareChat and also official accounts of the Congress and some of its state units.
Berges Malu, ShareChat’s head of public policy, said “This is not an incitement of violence. An incitement of violence is saying ‘there is something happening, go out and kill them’.”
Malu, acknowledging the presence of offensive content said that ShareChat has content moderators for all languages. “We take fake news, child porn, fake profiles, very seriously and “take necessary action when required”.