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Thursday, November 29, 2018

Social media and fake news: how the smartphone is transforming India | Books - The National

'The smartphone is giving Indians things most of them have never had: cameras, MP3 players, alarm clocks. That is transformative,' says author Ravi Agrawal, managing editor of Foreign Policy.

Indian priest Pawan Pandey, 38, poses with his smartphone at a Hanuman temple near the Sangam area in Allahabad.
Photo: AFP

Imagine what it must be like, if you have spent your entire life in a rural Indian village, to see a smartphone for the first time. To watch as this small device responds to your every command. You want to see the Taj Mahal? Sure, here it is. How about contacting a relative many miles away and seeing their face right there in front of you? No problem. This shiny little screen provides the gateway to all the things you have heard about – and many you haven’t, too. It would seem like magic.

Such has been the experience of hundreds of millions of Indians in the past few years. You can buy a brand-new smartphone in India for as little as $46 (Dh168), and data is cheap, which means a significant proportion of India’s poor can now access the internet for the first time. The numbers are extraordinary. In 2000, only 20 million Indians – or two per cent of the population – were online.
That number had increased to 100 million by 2010, but 1.1 billion Indians were still offline.

By 2017, however, 462 million Indians – or 35 per cent of the population – had discovered the internet, and projections suggest that nearly a billion Indians will be online by 2025. This is nearly all down to the smartphone.

'The West’s evolution is India’s revolution'  
Things happened more gradually in the West. In the late 1990s, if you had a personal computer, a telephone and a dial-up connection, you could probably send an email, search Google, and maybe even visit some rudimentary, grainy-looking websites.

With the arrival of broadband and then wireless, connection speeds increased. Online businesses were launched, music and films were shared for free, blogs started appearing, pornography became widely available, and a river of information (and disinformation) burst its banks. Then in 2004, Facebook arrived, followed by YouTube in 2005 and Twitter in 2006...

Dealing with the bad  
On the flip side, though, look at fake news. It is a virus, spread online, which has infected almost every society with access to the internet. But Indians are particularly susceptible to it. “New users, who discover a rudimentary version of computing on their mobiles, have no prior experience with Photoshop, for example, or doctored videos,” Agrawal writes.
Read more... 

Recommended Reading  
India Connected
How the Smartphone is Transforming the World's Largest Democracy

India Connected: How the Smartphone is Transforming the World’s Largest Democracy, published by Oxford University Press, is out now.

Source: The National