Frightening Increase in Fake News During Lockdown

The transmission of fake news has increased tremendously with people not able to leave their houses and consuming more time on their smartphones. With limited knowledge available about what is happening right now, and how will it go ahead; huge spaces of our WhatsApp have been captured by ‘rumor-mongering’ and fake news. The surge in WhatsApp forwards is often leading to violence and panic.

Migrant workers gather to board the bus towards their villages, at the Anand Vihar Bus Terminal during a nationwide lockdown due to coronavirus pandemic. Source: Reuters

Thousands of migrant laborers waiting to get back to their native villages at Anand Vihar, on 31st of March is also a product of such fake news. On 31st March, the Central Government, in their bid to stop such activities, filed a petition in Supreme Court, stating that “in an unprecedented situation of this nature, any deliberate or unintended fake or inaccurate reporting either in electronic, print, social media or web portals has a serious and inevitable potential of causing panic in larger sections of the society”. Interestingly, this itself has become fake news peddled on Whatsapp; that under Disaster Management Act, no citizen, except government bodies, is allowed to post anything regarding COVID-19. In reality, the Supreme Court has just given a direction to not post anything regarding COVID-19 without ascertaining the fact from the government.

Source: PTI

Similar is the case of Prime Minister Modi, being asked to become the leader of fighting Covid19 by 18 countries including the UK/US. With the same information, a video by WION News is attached, to a report from the 15th of March of how PM Modi’s speech at SAARC Summit was successful. Nowhere in the speech, the UK or the US is mentioned, leave alone making PM Modi the leader.

Videos of all around the world of people spitting on food (and one in the metro) are now being shared as videos of Muslim men infecting the world under the mission of “Corona Jihad” i.e. killing ‘Kaafir’ (non-muslims) through coronavirus. Fact-finding news agencies, such as the alt.news and Webqoof have been repeatedly exposing such fake news.

While different state governments are showing concern about this, MPs and MLAs have been notoriously forwarding such messages- especially the ones related to Tablighi Jamaat. Such messages are repeatedly discredited by authorities.

Media houses, such as ZEE and interestingly, even ANI- the news agency- (one of the largest agencies in the country) which supplies information to media houses have come under the influence of fake news. These, have also been discredited by the concerned authorities.

Tweet by Smita Prakash, Editor-in-Chief of Asian News International. Source: Twitter

It is not that, only rightwing of Hindutva brigade is peddling such news. There has also been misinformation regarding people beating up a police officer in a temple. Unverified videos of people being threatened, or beaten up are also emerging; causing panic. On April 7, Assam MLA Aminul Islam was arrested for making and circulating a viral audio tape stating that Muslims in Assam are witch-hunted by the Government and then he fears that they “will be injected with coronavirus and murdered”.

Source: NPR

The propagandist machinery created for the circulation of such venom spewing activities to disrupt communal harmony is not one day’s or a single man’s job. It is not organic, as it seems. However, it for sure is exponentially increasing with the lockdown. A study conducted by a software analyst who goes by the name /u/onosmosis on Reddit shows that around 17,779 pro-BJP accounts and 147 Congress accounts are the sources of misinformation and propaganda.

The Analyst, in a report on The Print, talked about how they focused on discerning accounts that are not verified, “Unverified accounts publish tweet with hate, abuse, false information in larger volume than verified accounts.” This is further peddled by politicians and social media influencers. While doing the same, they do not realize that the hate they are manufacturing is leading to violence in the lives of common people.

Multiple cases of thrashing, killing, lynching, denial of Muslims to open their essential items shop or distribute them are coming from villages and towns across the nation. Most of this is due to misinformation and hatred mongering that is going on after the Tablighi Jamaat incident and hiding of the members of the Jamaat. This is coupled with a tremendous amount of fake news- with random old footage of spitting in food items or notes termed as members of the Jamaat who are on a mission to spread “Corona Jihad”. Even prime news agencies such as the ANI is not bereft of propagating fake news, which is having horrible consequences on the ground.

Our increase in consumption of data is leading to an increase in consumption of suspicion and hostility. Sadly, our family WhatsApp groups have become the habitat of such hatred. This is having grave impacts on people’s lives especially in regard to discrimination and violence and will continue to do so.

On April 3, a Whatsapp forward regarding members of Tablighi Jamaat hiding was spread in a village in Assam. Men from all the surrounding villages marched towards the pond where daily wage workers were digging and hit their supervisor Kumud Das. Nobody had gone to Nizammudin from that place.

Videos emerging from Haldwani have also come up showing that miscreants are going to Muslim fruit vendors and asking him to leave while allowing the Hindu vendors to stay. Not only in India, but this menace is also creating a problem in other countries as well. Misinformation in drinking bleach to cure coronavirus is leading to hundreds of death in Iran where people drank methanol.

On March 7, a small town in Ukraine, Novi Sanzhary, was tarnished and rioted because of misinformation that a plane from Wuhan has arrived in the town carrying 50 infected people, which will lead to massive outspread of the virus. In reality, 45 Ukrainians and 27 foreign nationals were brought and none of them had tested positive.

Police escorting the tourists to Quarantine center amid Riots in Ukraine. Source: Reuters

Different stakeholders are taking actions to stop the transmission of fake news, with the transmission of coronavirus. These include Twitter and Facebook (who have deleted posts from world leaders such as the Venezuelan President and Brazilian President), WhatsApp (which is also keeping a tight watch on the news being peddled), governments (Vietnam has fined 3 celebrities and 160 other people for circulating misinformation; strict measures are coming up from states such as Maharashtra and Kerala against communal related fake news) as well as administrative machineries such as police and DM. Along with them, we should also ensure that fake news is not peddled, through us or any of our acquaintances, friends, and family and be vigilant towards the same. Our ignorance, is the contribution, to every life that suffers due to misinformation.

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