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[oped of the day] Shaking the foundation of fake news

Mains Paper 3 : Social Media Networks & Internal Security |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : The issue of Fake News and handling it


Op-ed of the day is the most important editorial of the day. This will cover a key issue that came in the news and for which students must pay attention. This will also take care of certain key issues students have to cover in respective GS papers.

Context

Combating fake news is a growing preoccupation with the technology platforms, the political class, the news media. 

Fake News

  • Fake news is not a new phenomenon linked to the rise of social media.
  • Governments and political actors have always invested in disinformation campaigns to build narratives of their choice. 
  • Institutional news media is no longer seen as an arbitrator of the ‘real news’. It lost credibility due to complicit and motivated reporting. 
  • The advent of social media has decentralised the creation and propagation of fake news. 
  • This has led to the difficulty in controlling/eliminating fake news.

Response to fake news

  • The current response to fake news primarily revolves around three prongs
    • Rebuttal
    • Removal of the fake news item
    • Educating the public. 
  • They are not sufficient in themselves to address the larger ‘political’ problem posed by fake news.

Rebuttal and removal

  • A rebuttal is a form of fact-checking wherein the fake news is debunked by pointing out errors like mismatch, malicious editing and misattribution. 
  • If the fake news item appears on institutional handles, attempts are made to have it removed after rebuttal. 
  • There is pressure on companies like Facebook and YouTube to proactively remove fake news from their platforms and rework their algorithms to ensure that such content does not gain prominence. 
  • The newly introduced limits on forwarding messages on WhatsApp are due to this discourse. 

Educating

  • This encourages educating the end-users to be more discerning consumers of news.
  • It informs them of verification tools so that they can ascertain the accuracy of a news item before sharing it.
  • Another emerging strand is tracking the ‘source’ of fake news to address the issue at its root. 

Challenges in the approaches

  • Along with de-anonymising all social media accounts it will rise serious issues concerning the invasion of privacy and free speech.
  • It may be used by governments to quell dissent.
  • Attempting to rebut fake news may be possible to rebut news on one fake instance. But the ‘fake news factory’ will keep churning out similar stories to advance its chosen narrative.
  • It is impossible to completely ‘remove’ fake news even after rebuttal, given the decentralised nature of dissemination. 
  • Propagation and virality of a news item are contingent not on its accuracy but on how well it conforms to the dominant narrative. 
  • The act of ‘rebuttal’, instead of supplanting the original fake news item, could vie for space with the latter. 
  • The average consumer relies on overall narratives to evaluate a piece of information. The increasing complexity of issues and deluge of information has made it impossible for any individual to develop a well-researched stand on all the topics. 
  • When an individual piece of information conforms to someone’s held beliefs, it is readily accepted and shared.
  • Studies have confirmed that people don’t care about finding the ‘truth’ behind a news item and instead look for evidence to support their preferred narrative – confirmation bias. 
  • Therefore, debunking discrete items of fake news without addressing this battle of narratives will have only marginal value. 

Way ahead

  • If we are concerned about the impact of fake news, we must address the underlying narratives, instead of merely trying to rebut individual items. 
  • By addressing the weaknesses that allow the fake news narrative to take root. Eg., the rise of right-wing due to the loss of credibility of the liberal camp.
  • Mobilize public opinion around an alternate narrative that makes the fake news item irrelevant. 
  • Most people cannot hold multiple stories in their head and thus, instead of poking holes in an opponent’s story, it may be more effective to replace it with a different narrative built on facts.
Social Media: Prospect and Challenges

[op-ed snap] Let’s not regulate the ease of doing business

Mains Paper 3 : Effects Of Liberalization On The Economy, Changes In Industrial Policy and their effects on Industrial Growth |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : RBI draft rule on Offshore investments


Context

In a set of FAQs on overseas direct investment published recently, RBI has said that Indian companies are barred from acquiring a stake in any offshore company if that firm has investments in any Indian entity. Still, no formal order or circular to this effect has been issued.

What does the rule say

  • It does not matter how big or small the foreign entity’s holding in an Indian enterprise is. 
  • The ownership of even a single share would put it on the no-go list for Indian investors. 

Objective

  • The aim of this restriction is to check the round-tripping of money. 
  • Criss-cross investments spanning multiple jurisdictions can serve as conduits for dubious funds to be sent abroad and brought back into the country in some legal guise. 
  • It could also be a clamp-on tax evasion done by setting up firms in countries with easier tax regimes to hold assets of Indian companies that make money off the domestic market. 

Problem with the ruling

  • If such practices are rampant, then specific probes need to be ordered, evidence gathered, and cases filed.
  • Banning investments in foreign businesses that have Indian interests amounts to disproportionate action.
  • In this era of globalization, the collateral damage of such moves to the economy could outweigh the gains. 
  • Even legitimate businesses wanting to expand their operations globally could find their plans thwarted. 
  • Not just the future investments, but those already made could also come under the scanner. 
  • Complying with the rule would be difficult for any enterprise with even moderate dealings abroad. An Indian exporter looking for an equity partnership with a foreign distributor would have to check if the latter has made an investment in India and need a special agreement that prevents the offshore entity from investing in a domestic set-up. 
  • In a world where such business decisions are freely made, the clause could be a deal-breaker. 
  • The foreign subsidiary of an Indian company would not be able to directly invest a surplus generated abroad in a domestic venture of its choice, even though such an investment would be above board.
  • For decades after independence, over-regulation was the bane of enterprise in India. 

Way ahead

  • Liberalization offered relief with whole categories of restrictions dumped to encourage greater business freedom. The country has made major gains in global rankings which measure the ease of doing business. 
  • Regulatory over-tightening puts those achievements at risk. 
  • Track down round-trippers and tax evaders.
Industrial Sector Updates – Industrial Policy, Ease of Doing Business, etc.

[op-ed snap] The Taliban problem: On the Afghan crisis

Mains Paper 2 : India & Its Neighborhood - Relations |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Afghanistan - latest situation and way ahead


Context

The U.S.-Taliban talks collapsed last week. Taliban threatened to step up attacks in Afghanistan. 

The security situation in Afghanistan

  • It used two suicide bombers who killed at least 48 people by targeting a rally being addressed by Ashraf Ghani. 
  • These attacks are yet another warning of the security challenges Afghanistan faces. Particularly before the presidential polls.
  • Both the 2014 presidential election and last year’s parliamentary poll were violently disturbed by the Taliban. 
  • This time, they asked civilians to stay away from political gatherings, making all those who participate in the political process of potential targets. 

Taliban

  • Rising attacks against Afghan civilians make the Taliban’s claim of fighting on behalf of them hollow. 
  • The Taliban did not suspend its terror campaign even while holding talks with the U.S. in Qatar. 
  • Now that the talks have collapsed, a vengeful Taliban is unleashing itself.
  • Threat from the Taliban is so grave that the President is largely addressing campaign rallies through Skype. 

Afghanistan situation

  • The Afghan government is determined to go ahead with the election. 
  • Even if the elections are over without further attacks, the Taliban problem will remain. 
  • The fundamental problem with the U.S.-Taliban peace process was that it excluded the Kabul government at the insistence of the insurgents.
  • The Taliban was not even ready to cease hostilities. A peace agreement dictated by the Taliban won’t sustain.
  • A permanently unstable Afghanistan and Taliban growing in strength is not good news for Afghanistan’s neighbours.

Solution

  • Regional and international players should help the new government. 
  • The Taliban can’t be allowed to have a free terror run. 
  • Afghanistan needs a comprehensive peace push in which all stakeholders, including the government, the U.S., the Taliban, and regional players will have a say. 
  • The U.S. should continue to back the Kabul government.
  • It should put pressure on Pakistan to crack down on the Afghan Taliban, double down its counter-insurgency operations in Afghanistan.
  • The US should also invite regional players such as Pakistan, Iran, Russia, India, and China to take part in the diplomatic efforts. 
  • The Taliban should be forced to return to talks. 

Conclusion

The U.S.-Taliban peace talks may have collapsed. But it need not be the end of the road for finding a settlement for the Afghan crisis.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

Cabinet approves ban on e-cigarettes

Mains Paper 2 : Health & Education |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : ENDS

Mains level : Hazards of ENDS



News

  • The Union Cabinet approved a ban on e-cigarettes, citing the need to take early action to protect public health.

Prohibition of E-cigarettes Ordinance, 2019

  • Upon promulgation of the ordinance, any production, manufacturing, import, export, transport, sale (including online sale), distribution or advertisement (including online advertisement) of e-cigarettes shall be a cognizable offence.
  • It is punishable with imprisonment of up to one year, or fine up to ₹1 lakh, or both for the first offence; and imprisonment of up to three years and fine up to ₹5 lakh for a subsequent offence.
  • Storage of electronic-cigarettes shall also be punishable with imprisonment of up to 6 months or a fine of up to ₹50,000 or both.
  • The sub-inspector has been designated as the authorised officer to take action under the ordinance.
  • The Central or State governments may also designate any other equivalent officer(s) as authorised officer for enforcement of the provisions of the ordinance.

What are e-cigarettes?

  • E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that heat a solution of nicotine and different flavours to create aerosol, which is then inhaled.
  • These devices belong to a category of vapour-based nicotine products called ENDS.
  • E-cigarettes and other ENDS products may look like their traditional counterparts (regular cigarettes or cigars), but they also come in other shapes and sizes and can resemble daily use products, including pens and USB drives.
  • Several companies selling ENDS in India have positioned these products as a safer, less harmful alternative to traditional cigarettes or as devices that could help users quit smoking.

Why does the government want to ban these devices?

  • The Health Ministry and Central Drugs Standards Control Organisation, India’s drug regulatory authority, had attempted in the past to ban the import and sale of these products citing public health concerns.
  • Before the ordinance was announced, the government had been facing hurdles in the form of court cases against the move, as ENDS were not declared as ‘drugs’ in the country’s drug regulations.
  • These products have neither been assessed for safety in the national population, nor been approved under provisions of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940.Yet, they have been widely available to consumers.
  • Though some smokers have claimed to have cut down smoking while using ENDS, the total nicotine consumption seemed to remain “unchanged”, according to the government

Does this mean traditional tobacco products are safer?

  • Traditional tobacco products like cigarettes and chewing tobacco are already known to be harmful.
  • According to the CDC in the US, cigarette smoking harms “nearly every organ of the body, causes many diseases, and reduces the health of smokers in general”.
  • A study published in The Lancet found tobacco use was the “leading” risk factor for cancers in India in 2016.
  • ICMR estimates that India is likely to face over 17 lakh new cancer cases and over eight lakh deaths by 2020.
  • In 2018, India had nearly 27 crore tobacco users and a “substantial” number of people exposed to second-hand smoke, putting them at an increased risk for cardiovascular diseases, according to WHO.
  • Tobacco kills over 1 million people each year, contributing to 9.5 per cent of all deaths, it said.

Who gains from the move?

  • The government feels its decision will help “protect the population, especially youth and children, from the risk of addiction through e-cigarettes”.
  • It says enforcement of the ordinance will complement its efforts to reduce tobacco use and, therefore, help in reducing the economic and disease burden associated with it.
  • Apart from this, traditional tobacco firms, too, could potentially gain from the ban.
Health Sector – UHC, National Health Policy, Family Planning, Health Insurance, etc.

Bio-fencing to check man-animal conflict

Mains Paper 3 : Conservation, Environmental Pollution & Degradation, Eia |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Bio-fencing

Mains level : Benefits of Bio-fencing



News

  • To prevent wild animals from entering residential areas and to protect agricultural crops and livestock in areas adjoining to forests, the Uttarakhand government has decided to opt for bio-fencing.

Bio-fencing

  • Bio-fencings are lines of trees or shrubs planted on farm or field boundaries that provide protection against cattle and wildlife, act as windbreaks, enrich the soil, provide bee forage, provide shade, and control dust.
  • They are less expensive and more useful than fences made of wood, barbed wire, or stone masonry.
  • Various species have been tested to discover their suitability for use as biofencing plants ex. thorny species have been widely used.

A case in Uttarakhand

  • According to Uttarakhand officials, lemongrass, agave, rambans, and certain species of chilly and some other plant species have been identified to be grown for fencing.
  • Leopards and bears, along with elephants and wild boars are a major threat to human life, livestock and crops.
  • Traditional methods like solar-powered wire fencings, walls and pits in the woods prevents the entry of elephants, wild boars, tigers, leopards and others in residential areas.
  • Bio-fencing with lemongrass will be done to prevent entry of elephants because elephants do not like the smell of lemongrass.
  • Likewise, agave will be grown to deter elephant and wild boars.
  • This biotic method is environment-friendly and harvesting of such plants can also be economical for farmers.

Why bio-fencing?

  • Solar-powered wire fencing is effective only when local villagers maintain them.
  • About erection of walls in forest areas, building and repairing them is a costly affair.
  • If local farmers agree to be part of the bio-fencing exercise, they can earn by growing lemongrass, a good source of oil.
  • Once these plants are in place, the department will string beehives in the next phase to deter elephants.
Wildlife Conservation Efforts

The burden of malnutrition in under-5 children in India

Mains Paper 2 : Health & Education |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Malnutrition

Mains level : U5 malnutrition and mortality in India



News

  • A report published in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health gives comprehensive estimates of disease burden due to child and maternal malnutrition and the trends of its indicators in every state of India from 1990 to 2017.

Key findings

  • The death rate attributable to malnutrition in under-5 children in India has dropped by two-thirds from 1990 to 2017.
  • Malnutrition is, however, still the underlying risk factor for 68% of the deaths in under-five children in India.
  • The Disability-Adjusted Life Years (DALY) rate attributable to malnutrition in children varies 7-fold among the states — a gap between a high of 74,782 in Uttar Pradesh and a low of 11,002 in Kerala.
  • Other states with a high burden are Bihar, Assam and Rajasthan. followed by Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Nagaland and Tripura.

U5 mortality

  • The proportion of under-5 deaths attributable to malnutrition, which is 68.2% across India, ranges between a high of 72.7% in Bihar and a low of 50.8% in Kerala.
  • Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Uttar Pradesh are states with a high such proportion, while Meghalaya, Tamil Nadu, Mizoram and Goa have the lowest proportions of such deaths.
  • Among the malnutrition indicators, low birth weight is the largest contributor to child deaths in India, followed by child growth failure which includes stunting, underweight, and wasting.
Mother and Child Health – Immunization Program, BPBB, PMJSY, PMMSY, etc.

International Migrant Stock 2019

Mains Paper 1 : Population & Associated Issues |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : International Migrant Stock 2019

Mains level : Indian diaspora



News

  • India has emerged as the leading country of origin for immigrants across the world, with 17.5 million international migrants in 2019 coming from India, up from 15.9 million in 2015.

International Migrant Stock 2019

  • The data is released by the UN DESA’s Population Division.
  • Data shows that the number of international migrants in the world had reached an estimated 272 million 2019 — 51 million more than in 2010.
  • The percentage of international migrants of the total global population has increased to 3.5% from 2.8% in 2000.

India at the top

  • While India remained as the top source of international migrants, the number of migrants living in India saw a slight decline from 5.24 million in 2015 to an estimated 5.15 million in 2019 – both 0.4% of the total population of the country.
  • Bangladesh was the leading country of origin for migrants in India.

Global scene

  • In a statement, the UN DESA Population Division said that one-third of all international migrants originated from 10 countries.
  • After India, Mexico ranked second as the country of origin for 12 million migrants, followed by China (11 million), Russia (10 million) and Syria (8 million).
  • The European region hosted the highest number of the immigrants at 82 million in 2019, followed by North America (59 million) and Northern Africa and Western Asia (49 million).
  • Among countries, the U.S. hosts the highest number of international migrants (51 million), about 19% of the global population.
  • Forced displacements continue to rise, with the number of refugees and asylum seekers increased by about 13 million from 2010 to 2017.
US policy wise : Visa, Free Trade and WTO

Bharat Bill Payment System (BBPS)

Mains Paper 2 : Governance, Transparency & Accountability, Citizens Charters |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : BBPS

Mains level : Promoting cashless transactions in India



News

  • The RBI has expanded the scope of the Bharat Bill Payment System (BBPS) by adding other categories of recurring payments through the portal.

Why in news?

  • With the expansion of the scope of the payment facility, other recurring payments such as school fees, municipal taxes, insurance premiums can also be paid via BBPS.
  • Till now, the Bharat Bill Payment System used to cater to just five segments — direct to home (DTH), electricity, gas, telecom and water.

About BBPS

  • The Bharat Bill Payment System was launched by the National Payment Corporation of India on 31 August 2016 under the recommendation of RBI executive director G. Padmanabhan committee.
  • The platform allows customers across the country to use one single website or outlet to pay all their bills with reliability and safety of transactions.
  • According to a report, a total of 338 million transactions took place on the BBPS network over the course of 2018-19.
  • BBPS payments can be made using cash, cheques as well as through digital methods such as internet banking, debit, credit card, among others.
  • The payment service is provided to customers through a network of agents, enabling multiple payment modes, including cash, and an instant confirmation of payment is provided after the transaction.
  • It even has a standardized system to handle grievances for both online and offline transactions.
Cashless Society – Digital Payments, Demonetization, etc.

New FCRA rules

Mains Paper 2 : NGO, SHG & Civil Society |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : FCRA

Mains level : Preventing money laundering


News

  • The Union home ministry has revised its rules on NGOs receiving foreign funding.

New FCRA Rules

  • In a notification, the ministry announced the changes in the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Rules, 2011, which include that individuals need not declare personal gifts to the tune of ₹1 lakh anymore.
  • Earlier, gifts worth more than ₹25,000 were required to be declared.
  • The office bearers, key functionaries and members of the organizations will have to declare that they are neither prosecuted nor convicted of religious conversion nor charged with sedition.
  • It is also mandatory for office bearers and key functionaries and members to certify that they have not been “prosecuted or convicted” for “conversion” from one faith to another and for creating “communal tension and disharmony”.
  • Earlier, as per the FCRA 2010, only applicants such as directors who sought permission to receive foreign funds were required to make such a declaration.
  • Now, every member of an NGO must, under oath, through an affidavit, declare that they have never been involved in diverting foreign funds or “sedition” or “advocating violent means”.

About FCRA

  • Government of India enacted the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) in the year 1976 with an objective of regulating the acceptance and utilization of foreign contribution.
  • The act was majorly modified in 2010 with several amendments because many NGOs were found using illegal use of foreign funding.
  • It is a consolidating act whose scope is to regulate the acceptance and utilisation of foreign contribution or foreign hospitality by certain individuals or associations or companies.
  • It aims to prohibit funding for any activities detrimental to the national interest and for matters connected therewith.
  • In 2016 license of about 20,000 NGOs were cancelled after reviewing their work.
Corruption Challenges – Lokpal, POCA, etc