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Online Classes :- Current Affairs Part-3

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Fake news trap: Science minister should be warning people against dubious online content

Union science and technology minister Harsh Vardhan’s proclamation at the 105th Indian Science Congress that British physicist Stephen Hawking had said that the Vedas might contain a theory superior to Albert Einstein’s famous equation E=mc2, appears a classic case of falling into the fake news trap. His source is reported to be the website of one Institute of Scientific Research on Vedas which in turn references a fake Stephen Hawking Facebook page. Vardhan, a medical doctor himself, chose a gathering of the best Indian scientific minds to make a pronouncement on science with zero credibility. This not only dishonours Indian science, but is also an example of how fake news spread through social media is distorting perceptions and political debate worldwide.

Perhaps Hawking’s demise last week compelled Vardhan to pay tribute to the famous scientist. And perhaps Hawking’s alleged statement on the Vedas spoke to Vardhan’s cognitive biases. In fact, this is the big danger in the age of social media. When it tallies with what people already believe, reflecting their confirmation bias, people are likely to buy inauthentic “information” as authentic. And given the viral nature of social media – as well as its propensity to create echo chambers – misinformation can spread like an epidemic.

In its worst form, this can lead to riots among communities and tensions between nations. This is all the more reason why people should be turning to authentic and credible sources of information rather than blindly relying on social media content. And if social media can’t be avoided, cross-checking content with multiple sources including books, journals and newspapers would help avoid the fake news trap. Vardhan, as science and technology minister, should himself be educating people about fake online information.

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