Are WhatsApp forwards your source of info? Welcome to Project Ignorance
We Pakistanis hardly think about our current and future realities or try to access authentic data about what’s happening around us – now and in the future.
In a ranking of the top 45 economies in the world, Pakistanis came last in the Future Orientation Index (FOI, The Guardian 2013).
In the Long Term Orientation (LTO) dimension of Geert-Hofstede Culture Index, Pakistan’s score in 2013 was zero (0); yes, zero.
Our favourite and only media consumption is a false narrative based on conspiracy theories carefully built by a coordinated media mix of dubious TV channels, disinformation through print and social media like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and plethora of bogus local and international-sounding blog domains.
Add to this list the mass SMS and WhatsApp messages titled ‘forwarded as received’ and an uninterrupted supply of photoshopped images and fake videos.
It appears that it’s an international phenomena, not just a local roll-out.
CNN: Fake news has become a plague on the web (above), and a tweet from a chief data scientist and NYU Adjunct Professor (below):
Bias, propaganda, and deliberately misleading information are more prevalent and do much more damage than fake news https://t.co/wf02ESvHoG— Gilad Lotan (@gilgul) November 23, 2016
19 April 2018: BBC news report about NATO and Russia circulating widely on WhatsApp is absolutely fake. BBC tweets (below)
This video clip claiming to be a #BBC news report about NATO and Russia has been circulating widely, particularly on WhatsApp. We'd like to make absolutely clear that it's a #fake and does not come from the BBC. #fakenews pic.twitter.com/91lVuTlcBC— BBC News Press Team (@BBCNewsPR) April 19, 2018
28 Nov 2016: Time magazine tweets: Why fake news is so incredibly effective (below)
10 August 2018: Time magazine tweets: How your brain tricks you into believing fake news
How your brain tricks you into believing fake news https://t.co/QQiojiDwv3— TIME (@TIME) August 10, 2018
Case in point: I have started receiving Whatsapp messages (above) that the journalist Cyril Almeida who broke the story in Dawn about civil-military relations is a PMLN member. Nothing could be far from the truth. – 13 October 2016
During my 25-year teaching and training career, I have come across all sections of population in large numbers – from MBA students to corporate executives to civil servants to military officers to high court judges.
None of them – yes, none of them – had authentic data about what’s happening and what is the future forecast for this amazing country.
It’s not just the elite audiences. I also had the opportunity of a few dinner and wedding conversations with the common citizens considering themselves an insider and fully aware and connected.
Appears Facebook too is fighting the fake news
And it’s not just the present and the future view which is skewed. There is also a completely false view of the country’s history and its main characters.
In a careful orchestra, the heroes have been turned into villains and the villains into heroes through a controlled narrative over monopolised channels.
I will hasten to add that this project is not aimed at correcting the historical falsification as this is the job of historians, particularly when the lid on ‘unseen narrative control’ is removed in a couple of years. Say, by year 2030.
Kindly RT this if you can help ... pic.twitter.com/AYsswQ2xTH— Mansoor Ali Khan (@_Mansoor_Ali) October 31, 2016
Above: Glad to see a fellow journalist, Mansoor Ali Khan, of the prime-time show ‘To the Point’ on Express News, shared this recently.
PM Nawaz Sharif will step down on Monday. COAS has taken a decision to take things under his direct control. https://t.co/6F9n8bjQdg— Salman Masood (@salmanmasood) November 13, 2016
Above: Journalist Salman Masood ofThe New York Times writes this.
So, what’s in store for you?
Project Ignorance, run through volunteers, who care about this gifted and amazing country and its future, will bring you a big-picture view of the strengths that God has gifted us in comparisons with other countries.
It will also expose stereotypical populist change agendas of various stakeholders which are used to arouse our emotion – of the elite as well as of the illiterate types – but may not have correlation with real change this country needs.
Checking out a fake story is pretty easy to do, the hard part is knowing when to check. So think of the "WOAH" test. https://t.co/9Lh3d7spI2— First Draft (@firstdraftnews) November 5, 2016
It is through fresh perspectives provided by Project Ignorance that you will be able to decide where to put your weight next on occasions as big as ballot box or as minor as sharing the next video on Facebook or forwarding a WhatsApp message as received.
Another case in point: Coverage of PIA flight PK 661 crash and Dawn journalist Zarrar Khuhro’s take on it.
What will Project Ignorance achieve?
Project Ignorance may not put a dent in the universe as it is run by a small (although dedicated) team of people who volunteer their time without any assistance.
However, it will do sufficiently for those who seek what’s really on the horizon for Pakistan.
Case in point: This photo is making WhatsApp and Facebook rounds as a case of child kidnapping in Pakistan. – August 2016
One likely outcome: Next time, when you are at a dinner conversation and are offered a dozen conspiracy theories, you will have authentic data to offer an an alternative informed opinion.
How Fake News Tricks Your Brain https://t.co/nqQmRI1O9B— Nick Schifrin (@nickschifrin) March 27, 2017
Project Ignorance could be your best ally in a prospering futuristic Pakistan.
What Pakistan needs is not education but a Project Ignorance.
Project Ignorance is led by Wali Zahid, President, Tehreek-e-Adl.
This Independence month, declare Photoshop as national art and Whatsapp as national medium. Sign the petition & RT if you are a patriot 😛— Wali Zahid (@walizahid) August 2, 2016
Wali tweets: This Independence month, declare Photoshop as national art and Whatsapp as national medium – August 2016
Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent outlines how general population can be misled.
9 Jan 2017: Glad that a step has been taken at official level by broadcasting regulator, Pemra.
Above: Americans think fake news create a great deal of confusion. Pew – January 2017
1 Feb: One of the major sources of fake news in Pakistan is ARY TV. UK regulator Ofcom revokes the licences of their six channels operating in the UK.
22 Feb: Just a glance on Geo.tv website, and you could imagine the worst: All three big institutions are victims of fake news/impostors: Army (ISPR), Legislative (Senate Chairman), central bank (SBP Governor). What have we made of this country? Is there any rule of law? Who’s behind all of this who’s so powerful and untouchable?
The DG ISPR had to issue this statement on ISPR's Facebook page.
24 Feb: Punjab police chief had to issue this statement after the Whatsapp Brigade released false threats – text, photo and audio messages – warning people that Lahore is a war zone and that police have been given shoot-at-sight orders.
3 March: #ProjectIgnorance receives its unprecedented, first major humiliation when a previously toothless regulator, PEMRA, becomes assertive and fines all TV news channels which aired the fake news of a blast in Gulberg Lahore on 23 February without verifying with authorities. National TV channels are fined Rs 1 million each and regional channels Rs 0.5 million each. Additionally, all channels will air an apology in their evening broadcasts.
Congratulations to Pemra chairman, Absar Alam.
15 June 2018: The highest exposure of fake news: Forbes
Wali Zahid is a longtime China watcher and a Pakistan futurist. An award-winning journalist, he writes on issues of significance to Pakistan and CPEC & BRI.