It was a chilly evening on December 19, 2023, with an unexplained melancholy lingering in the air. Birds soared homeward across the distant horizon, and nearby, tethered cattle aimlessly ruminated. Amidst my daily routine, my mobile phone suddenly chimed with an unfamiliar ringtone. An unknown number. Upon answering, a raspy yet lively voice resonated on the other end.
“Assalam Alaikum! I am Kaif Afridi, speaking from Tribal News Network. Are you Abid Jan?” questioned Kaif. “Yes, of course! I’m Abid Jan,” I responded. Kaif proceeded to inform me of my selection for a two-day training workshop in Peshawar on “Fake News and Elections,” confirming my availability on the 22nd and 23rd of December.
On the designated day, I found myself in a local guest house in Peshawar, where the main event hall buzzed with anticipation. The workshop, organized by Tribal News Network and partner organizations, drew journalists, bloggers, freelancers, and social media activists from various districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, including a fair representation of women.
Trainers Syed Nazir, Tayyab Afridi, and Iftikhar Khan expertly navigated through the aims and objectives of the training. We delved into the nuances of misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation, exploring real-world examples. The training also dissected the intricate web of propaganda, citing modern research from the University of Oregon.
The trainers, highly skilled and professional, encouraged participant interaction. Fact-checking methods took center stage in the last session of the first day, offering a practical learning experience through hands-on activities. On the final day, Election Commission Khyber Pakhtunkhwa spokesperson Sohail Khan provided a comprehensive presentation on the election process, journalist responsibilities, and available facilities.
As a joint editor at a local newspaper in Charsadda, I applied the acquired knowledge to scrutinize news shared in local WhatsApp groups. Surprisingly, a significant portion of the news was found to be fake or based on disinformation. Despite my efforts to fact-check and share results, some group members vehemently defended their misinformation, leading to my removal from several groups.
Yet, there were instances where my fact-checking efforts were appreciated, fostering a sense of awareness among group members. Credit for this transformation goes to Tribal News Network, whose excellent training empowered us to detect and combat fake news and disinformation effectively.