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14 Nov 2018, Edition - 1219, Wednesday

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Coimbatore

Check4Spam: Debunking fake news for us

Indrani Thakurata

Bengaluru: When the late TN CM Jayalalithaa was hospitalised, a picture of her lying in a hospital bed was doing the rounds on WhatsApp. Supporters and curious news-seekers were all feeding into such info, due to complete lack of official information during her 73 days in Apollo Hospital. So, when this picture was released, many media outlets believed it to be true and picked it up. Turns out, it was a picture from EsSalud Hospital in Lima, Peru,taken in 2009

But we wouldn’t have known this if there wasn’t a dedicated team debunking fake news for us. Shammas Oliyath and Bal Krishn Birla from Bengaluru started Check4Spam.com in February 2015 to make sure that only the right news reaches people.Log on to the website and you’ll see them debunking all kinds of “news” – from execution dates of freedom fighters to requirement of blood for accident victims. We get a chance to talk to them about their venture.

How did it all begin?

I am sure we all agree that social media is filled with hoaxes, fake news and propaganda messages. Check4Spam is a small effort to help people identify the truth behind all such posts. It’s not just about debunking hoaxes, it’s also about letting people know about genuine posts like missing people.

How do you sieve out real news?

Most of the debunking has been as easy as a simple Google search. When we have mainstream media or websites like Snopes, Hoax-Slayer reporting the story, we just refer to themand give a link back to them. In other cases, we do deep investigation. We primarily check the images in the posts if any,to helpisolate the case if we see the same image in other stories.

Any cringeworthy fake news you encountered recently?

The latest one was a hoax about Ebola virus spreading in Mumbai and advisingpeople to take bath in salt water and drink lots of salt water. This was worrying, as a similar hoax in Nigeria killed people after BP patients ended up with a fatal condition after consuming lots of salt water.

You have a team that checks facts?

Currently we are just the two of us from Bangalore. Bal takes care of the IT part, like server management, website design, SEO, etc. Shammas does the verification and content writing. We are open to volunteers who can help us by sharing any posts which they feel is false. If the proof source fits our verification standards, then we will add a post on the hoax and give credit to the volunteer. There are a few volunteered posts as of now: https://check4spam.com/tag/volunteered

Fake news can misguide people and therefore misguide their opinions about politics, social and cultural aspects of life. Comments?

Yes, and it’s been on a large scale off late. Specially during occasions like elections, demonetisation, etc. For example, during demonetisation we were very busy debunking many rumours on social media.

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