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Social Media, Messaging Apps Flooded with Fake News After Pulwama Attack

Malvika Singh |
Meanwhile, journalists are being threatened by right wing elements.
Social Media, Messaging Apps Flooded with Fake News After Pulwama Attack

Image for representational use only. Image Courtesy : The Express Tribune

Following the dastardly killings of CRPF personnel in Pulwama, not only the personal details of some of the journalists were made public, but they have been bombarded with phone calls and threats of violence including sexual abuse. Fake news and provocative messages on social media, newspapers and other digital avenues like WhatsApp, have also being doing rounds.

Following the terror attack that claimed lives of at least 40 CRPF men, a video has gone viral on social media in which a woman is supposedly speaking to Prime Minister Narendra Modi over a phone call. The caption of the post reads:

कभी देखा है ऐसा प्रधानमंत्री जो खुद शहीद की पत्नी को फोन करे, एक बाप की तरह उनके आँसू पोंछने की कोशिश करे, देख कर आँखे नम हो जाएँगी (Have you ever seen a prime minister who calls the martyr’s wife himself and tries to console her like a father? This video will bring tears to your eyes)”.

This post by a Facebook page called Swadeshi Lehar has been shared close to 2800 times so far. Many other individual users on Facebook and Twitter have shared the video, propagating the same narrative.

However, Alt News found that the video is more than five years old, and dates back to the time when Narendra Modi was the chief minister of Gujarat. According to Alt News, the video was uploaded by Zee News’ official YouTube channel on November 2, 2013. The caption attested with the video reads: “Narendra Modi called on the wife of Patna blast victim from Gopalganj, Munna Shrivastav, to offer his condolences. He was unable to visit the village due to bad weather.” Narendra Modi’s website had also published a post along with the same video, now circulating on social media, on November 2, 2013.

The woman, whom Modi was consoling over a telephonic conversation, seen in the video is Munna Srivastava’s wife, Priya Srivastava. Munna Srivastava was one of the five people who were killed in a serial blast that reportedly took place before BJP’s Hunkar rally in October, 2013. An article published by The Indian Express on October 28, 2013, stated, “In the first such attack in Patna, five people were killed and over 70 injured when serial blasts targeted Narendra Modi’s rally in the state capital’s Gandhi Maidan.” As the weather conditions were unfavourable for Modi’s chopper to land in Srivastava’s town, he was unable to visit the family.

Another news broke out in the afternoon of February 18 was that the mastermind of the Pulwama terror attack has been gunned down in an encounter. According to reports, Jaish-e-Mohammed commander Abdul Rashid Ghazi alias Kamran was killed after a 12-hour long gunfight with the security forces. The news has been reported by several media organisations which have also carried a photograph purported to be of the slain JeM commander.

The photograph used by India Today in this report has also been featured by several other media organisations such as ABP News, Zee News, India TV, Outlook and The Economic Times, among others.

Interestingly, Alt News was alerted about this photograph by a social media user, who alleged that the face of the terrorist, Abdul Rashid Ghazi was morphed on the body of American pop legend Jon Bon Jovi!

Also read: Threat to Democracy in the Age of Social or Anti-social Media

Following that, Alt News reverse searched the juxtaposed image of the slain terrorist, and found a photograph of Jon Bon Jovi on Pinterest which matched with the photograph of Ghazi used by the media houses.

Upon finding out that the similarities in both the photos are stark, Alt News found several such photographs of this uniform worn by different individuals. This led them to further probe the matter. It was found that this was done on an app on Amazon called Police Suit Photo Frame Maker. In this application, one of the templates features a uniform and shape identical to the photograph of Rashid, Bon Jovi and several others found online. This makes it rather strange that not a single media organisation checked the authenticity of the photograph before relaying it for mass consumption.

Taking note of such incidents and lapse of ethics in journalism at such a sensitive hour, several organisations of journalists, namely Indian Women's Press Corps, Press Club of India and Press Association have released a joint press statement. They have expressed serious concerns over fake news being spread, and the vicious attacks on several media-persons on social media, who had earlier commented on the harassment faced by Kashmiri students in the aftermath of the Pulwama attacks.

While the government agencies are reining in those who are spreading fake news and spreading inflammatory messages, journalists have urged the Union Home Ministry to act with equal alacrity in identifying and booking those who have been targeting media-persons and other individuals with hate messages.

Stating that numbers of these callers can be easily located, they should be identified since such messages have the potential of inciting hatred and leading to hate crimes invariably. They have further said that the growing tendency to demonise, hate and abuse people having different viewpoints is a deeply worrying trend, and it also goes against the basic tenets of democracy. Therefore, they have urged the government to be vigilant, and to look into the issue with the urgency it demands.

The Gender and Ethics Council of the Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ) has also expressed its shock, and anger at the incessant trolling and doxing of women journalists who are being repeatedly threatened on Facebook, Twitter and other social media.

In a statement today, general secretary Sujata Madhok said: “While many journalists, both male and female, are attacked on social media for their reports and views, it is reprehensible that women journalists are targeted in deeply personal, misogynist ways, abused, slandered, called presstitutes, and are threatened with rape and murder. The latest attack on Barkha Dutt, that she has shared on Twitter, indicates the extreme to which the hate groups can go to.

Dutt had tweeted, “Over the years Twitter has routinely been used to harass, abuse and smear women in India, including me. NONE OF MY COMPLAINTS HAVE EVER BEEN ACTED upon. Instead our complaints are trapped in legalese and bureaucratic mazes.” She alleges that Twitter “ha[s]ve revealed yourself to be vile enablers of sexual abuse and violence.”

DUJ has further said that Dutt’s experience has unfortunately been the experience of many journalists who have been trolled on Twitter, and the police rarely act decisively on such complaints, just as they are indifferent to most complaints about sexual harassment and stalking online.

Therefore, DUJ has maintained that in these circumstances it is imperative that social media sites proactively take measure to curb such organized anti-social activities and it is not enough to ask complainants to ‘block’ or ‘mute’ abusers.

The DUJ has demanded that Twitter and Facebook issue a clear, transparent policy against trolling, act decisively on it and stop the online abuse.

Also read: Assembly Debacle: BJP Got Taken in by Its Own Fake News

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